Thomas Hart Benton (Thomas Hart Benton)

Thomas Hart Benton

Painter,  Muralist.  Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry,  he was the outstanding figure in the American Regionalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Benton is best known for his murals of everyday and historical scenes of the Midwest and Southern United States.  Although he declared himself “an enemy of modernism” his work is highly stylized,  with bustling compositions, flamboyant color, exaggerated perspectives and a fluid yet sculptural sense of human form. He maintained that his style was “distinctly American”.    Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri.   His father was US Congressman Maecenas Benton, and his great-uncle and namesake Thomas Hart Benton was one of the first two US Senators from Missouri.  He studied at the Chicago Art Institute and at the Academie Julian in Paris before moving to New York City in 1913,  and served stateside in the US Navy during World War I.  His initial attraction was to abstract art.  In 1924 he returned to rural Missouri to care for his dying father and the visit awakened his interest in Americana as subject matter.  A political leftist,  Benton often employed elements of social commentary and the work that made him nationally famous,  “The Indiana Murals” (1932),  sparked controversy for its depiction of the Ku Klux Klan.  Time magazine put him on its cover in 1934 and his autobiography,  “An Artist in America” (1937),  became a bestseller.  He taught at the Art Students League of New York from 1926 to 1935 and Kansas City (Missouri) Art Institute from 1935 to 1941;  his most famous student was  Jackson Pollock.  The influence of Regionalism declined after World War II but Benton adhered to his signature style,  which grew  apolitical and nostalgic.  In his later years he divided his time between his homes in Kansas City and Martha’s Vineyard,  Massachusetts. He also collected folk and country music and was an expert harmonica player,  even recording a set of 78s in the late 1930s.  His major achievements include such canvases as “Susanna and the Elders” (1937),  and “Persephone” (1939),  and the murals “America Today” (1931),  “The Arts of Life in America” (1932),  “A Social History of Missouri” (1936),  “The Year of Peril” (1941),  “Lincoln” (1953),  and “Independence and the Opening of the West” (1961),  the latter for the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence,  Missouri.  Benton died at 85 at his Martha’s Vineyard studio,  one day after completing the mural panel “The Sources of Country Music” for the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville,  Tennessee.  In 1985 he was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians at the state capitol in Jefferson City. (bio by: Bobb Edwards)  Family links:  Parents:  Maecenas Eason Benton (1848 – 1924)  Elizabeth Wise Benton (1866 – 1952)  Spouse:  Rita Piacenza Benton (1896 – 1975)*  Siblings:  Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975)  Mary Elizabeth Benton Briggs (1890 – 1953)*  Nathaniel Wise Benton (1893 – 1946)* *Calculated relationship


  • April, 15, 1889
  • USA


  • January, 01, 1975
  • USA


  • Cremated

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