Text of THOMAS HART BENTON [1889 â€“1975] The Sources of Country Music, c.1975
THOMAS HART BENTON [1889 1975] The Sources of Country Music, c.1975
Thomas Hart Benton was a major American artist from Missouri. His paintings are famous for showing ordinary people doing common things. He drew and painted portraits, landscapes, and scenes of people at work in farms, factories, and busy cities. His best-known works are public murals, or scenes on the inside walls of buildings. Bentons murals are lively records of life in America from pioneer times onward.
Thomas Hart Benton (April 15, 1889 January 19, 1975) was an American painter and muralist. paintermuralist Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement.Grant WoodJohn Steuart Curry Regionalist
Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri, into an influential clan of politicians and powerbrokers.NeoshoMissouri Benton's father, Maecenas Benton, was a lawyer and United States congressman,Maecenas BentonUnited States congressman Named after his great-uncle Thomas Hart Benton who was one of the first two United States Senators from Missouri.Thomas Hart BentonUnited States Senators
Benton spent his childhood shuttling between Washington D.C. and Missouri.Washington D.C. Benton rebelled against his grooming for a future political career, preferring to develop his interest in art.
As a teenager, he worked as a cartoonist for the Joplin American newspaper, in Joplin, Missouri.Joplin American Joplin, Missouri
Benton, holding a walking stick, as a young man in Neosho, around 1911. He is pictured with his sisters, Mary and Florence, and their companions.
Benton and companions posing near a barbed wire fence
Benton met and married Rita Piacenza, an Italian immigrant, in 1922. They met while Benton was teaching art classes for a neighborhood organization in New York City and she was one of his students.
They were married for 53 years until Thomas's death in 1975. Rita died ten weeks after her husband. The couple had a son, Thomas Piacenza Benton, born in 1926, and a daughter, Jessie Benton, born in 1939.
On December 24, 1934, Benton was featured on one of the earliest color covers of Time magazine.Time magazine Bentons work was featured along with fellow Midwesterners Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry in an article titled The U.S. Scene.Grant WoodJohn Steuart Curry The article portrayed the trio as the new heroes of American art and cemented Regionalism as a significant art movement.
Regionalism Is also known as American scene painting.
American scene painting refers to a naturalist style of painting and other works of art of the 1920s through the 1950s in the United States. naturalistUnited States
After World War I many American artists rejected the modern trends emanating from the Armory Show and European influences such as those from the School of Paris.World War IAmericanmodernArmory ShowSchool of Paris Instead they chose to adopt academic realism in depicting American urban and rural scenes.academic realism
American scene painting conveys a sense of nationalism and romanticism in depictions of everyday American life. nationalismromanticism During the 1930s, these artists documented and depicted American cities, small towns, and rural landscapes; Some did so as a way to return to a simpler time away from industrialization whereas others sought to make a political statement and lent their art to revolutionary and radical causes.
His fluid, almost sculpted paintings showed everyday scenes of life in the United States. Though his work is perhaps best associated with the Midwest, he created scores of paintings of New York, where he lived for over 20 years; Marthas Vineyard, where he summered for much of his adult life;Marthas Vineyard The American South; And the American West.
Thomas Hart Benton was eighty-four in 1973, when he came out of retirement to paint a mural for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee.
His assignment was to describe the regional sources of the musical style known as country, and Benton couldnt resist the opportunity to paint one last celebration of homegrown American traditions.
Benton himself was a skilled harmonica player who had been raised on the old- time music of the Missouri Ozarks.
It was during his lifetime that the multimillion-dollar country-music industry in Nashville had replaced the community- based music of rural America.
As an artist, he had gained a popular following in the 1930s with works that spoke to ordinary people.
Along with other Midwestern Regionalists such as Grant Wood (Paul Reveres Ride) Benton rejected Parisian aesthetics, the European influence on American art, and scorned abstract art as an academic world of empty pattern.
His ambition was to paint meaningful, intelligible subjectsthe living world of active men and womenthat would hold broad, popular appeal.
By virtue of its subject and its setting, the Nashville mural was to be a painting, Benton said, aimed at persons who do not ordinarily visit art museums.
The Sources of Country Music is currently on display in the Country Music Hall of Fame Rotunda and is part of the exhibit tour.
On January 18, 1975, in his carriage- house studio in Kansas City, Thomas Hart Benton put the last brushstrokes on his painting The Sources of Country Music. The mural had been commissioned the year before by Nashville's Country Music Foundation to be displayed in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Its completion, in less than a year, by an eighty-five year-old-artist, was an impressive physical achievement.
The canvas measures six by ten feet and contains seventeen nearly life-sized figures. The subject was very dear to him. Tom's interest in country music was that of a man actively involved with it; He was himself a gifted musician, as well as a collector of American folk tunes. In The Sources of Country Music he distilled the study and hard work of a lifetime.
"I remember from my childhood," Tom remarked of country music, shortly after he was commissioned to make the Nashville mural. "I was raised down in southwest Missouri, and the only music we had was country music. So I was pretty familiar with it.I was familiar with the songs and with a good deal of literature on the subject."
The Sources of Country Music presents five distinct scenes to survey the music of ordinary Americans.
The central subject of a barn dance, with a pair of fiddlers calling out sets to a group of square dancers, describes the dominant music of the frontier.
A comparatively calm scene shows three women in their Sunday best with hymnals in their hands, suggesting the importance of church music in Protestant America.
In the foreground, two barefoot mountain women sing to the sounds of a lap dulcimer, an old instrument associated with Appalachian ballads.
In the opposite corner an armed cowboy, one foot on his saddle, accompanies himself with a guitar.
An African American man, apparently a cotton picker in the Deep South, strums a tune on a banjo, an instrument slaves brought with them to the New World.
Beyond him, on the other side of the railroad tracks, a group of black women dances on the distant riverbank.
Despite the range of regional styles, instruments, and customs, the mural seems to pulsate to a single beat, as if Benton took care to ensure that all the musicians played the same note and sang their varied American songs in tune.
The mural preserves an image of American folkways that were rapidly disappearing.
Bentons characteristically dynamic style expresses the powerful rhythms of music while suggesting the inevitability of change.
Many of the robust, nearly life-size figures balance on uneven, shifting ground.
The fiddlers look liable to fall into the mysteriously bowed floor, and the log on which the banjo player sits threatens to roll down the steep slope of the red-clay landscape.