by THOMAS HART BENTON (American School)
IN THE variety and range of his attack; in his ability to seize upon and com
municate the healthy strength, the telling details, and the large, characteristic
modes of action, Benton stands today as the foremost exponent of the’ mul
tifarious operations of American life.
Born in the Ozarks of Missouri, he
passed his boyhood in an environment not unhke that of Huckleberry Finn,
and at the age of nineteen went to Paris to make an artist of himself. Four
years later, having absorbed and rejected the doctrines of the modern school
he returned to his own country to undergo a long period of read just
ment. In 1918, his repatriation completed, he resolved to devote his life to
a pictorial history of the United States.
Since that momentous decision, Benton has been an inveterate explorer of
the interior of America, and has accumulated a veritable mountain of notes
and sketches which, with audacious energy,
he has utilized in an art ranging
from lithographs to the most forceful and complicated wall decorations in the
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His murals are alive with living characters reflecting the broad humor,
the occupational differences, and the inextinguishable gusto of his people.
His painting is a complex instrument;
in popular appeal, a folk art, but funda
mentally an intellectual performance-a folk art elaborated from a struc
tural mechanism derived from the Renaissance. He is a master designer, an
artist who can resolve and harmonize seemingly impossible contradictions of
In his canvases painted within the past two years, a new and surprising qual
ity has appeared: without sacrificing the solid architectural framework, he has
interwoven minute and luxuriant textural variations.
The nude, Persephone,
his latest work, contains the usual emphasis on the characteristics of the
American locale, but also an affectionate regard for detailed foliage and flesh
living flesh with subtle modulations of color and tone set against the shaggy
corrugations of the bark of trees and the rolls of sap-filled leaves. The nude
is a most provocative picture-a satiric fantasy,
a rhetorical gesture in the
American style. It is expertly composed and beautifully painted; and as the
sumptuous embodiment of the fullness of the living world, it is unsurpassed
by anything thus far produced in’~merica.