Thomas Hart Benton: Ships and Stories

Thomas Hart Benton’s work had a profound effect on American art. Born in 1889, he lived through World War l, World War ll and the Depression. Although he called himself an enemy of modernism, his teaching at the New York Art Students League, from 1925 to 1935, impacted the progression of Abstract Expressionism and modern art.


Thomas Hart Benton’s Ship Paintings

After studying at the Art Institute of Chicago and spending two years in Paris, Thomas Hart Benton returned to America and did a brief stint in the Navy during World War l. He was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia where he was assigned to paint ships entering the harbor in order to document their camouflage patterns.


Benton continued to develop his style during, and after, this period. He began to create clay models, in the manner of some Renaissance artists, which he used to create compositions for his paintings.


During World War ll, Abbott Laboratories, which produced drugs for the war effort, commissioned Benton to create a series of works inspired by the ships that were docked along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Benton created twenty five works that are currently on display at the Rahr-West Art Museum in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The Naval Art of Thomas Hart Benton will run through September 15, 2019.


Stories Inspired by the Works of Thomas Hart Benton

Kansas City author Donna Baier Stein was given a lithograph of Thomas Hart Benton’s Spring Tryout. The gift, from her parents, inspired her to research the life and times of the people and places that Benton painted. Stein’s research led her to write Scenes from the Heartland, Stories Based on Lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton.


“I read about county fairs and Esso gas pumps, Model B Fords and victory gardens, traveling preachers and gangsters like Owen Meany and Lucky Luciano” Stein said, ” . . . I wanted to learn about the America that came before me.”


Scenes from the Heartland is published by Serving House Books and is available through online retailers. 


The Works of Thomas Hart Benton at the Surovek Gallery

Thomas Hart Benton spent much of his life working, in solitude, in his studio.


“I would like to have an old master some time,” Benton said, “…a Titan from the National Gallery, say…to take apart layer by layer and destroy. Then I could learn their lost technical art and paint as well as them.” Modest words from an American master, who was famous for strong opinions and political tirades.


Please contact us if you would like more information about the works of Thomas Hart Benton available at the Surovek Gallery.


Nan Chisholm. Arts News: Thomas Hart Benton Lithographs Inspire a New Book of Stories. KC Studio. May 10, 2019.
Diana Bolander. Manitowoc Rahr-West to feature WWll naval works by Thomas Hart Benton. Herald Times Reporter. May 8, 2019.
Alexander Eliot. Three Hundred Years of American Painting. Time Incorporated. 1957.

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