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Thomas Hart Benton

( Originally Published 1955 )

American genre painter and muralist, leader of the regionalist American Scene painters. Born in Neosho, Mo., the son of a U.S. Senator, he spent his youth in Washington, D.C. At an early age he began his artistic career as an illustrator for a local newspaper, then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 1908 went to Paris. On his return to the U.S. in 1913, he was influenced by Cubism and Synchromism. After a tour of duty in the U.S. Navy during World War I, he traveled through the U.S. sketching the American scene. His murals of American life for the New School of Social Research (1930) and the Whitney Museum of American Art library (1931) sparked a renascence of mural painting as well as the American scene in art. In the mid-1930's he renounced modern art and the "effete" East and returned to the mid-West and regionalism. He disavowed the social content of his earlier work and painted a romantic and nostalgic picture of American rural life. His subsequent work exaggerated his formal devices, and though his art became richer in color it became also drier and more stylized in form. Together with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, who were painting similar subjects, he dominated one whole phase of American genre and mural painting of the 1930's. With the revival of abstract art in the 1940's his influence in American art dwindled.

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