Benton, Thomas Hart
- died Jan. 19, 1975, Kansas City, Mo.U.S. painter and muralist.He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Académie Julian in Paris, where he came into contact with Synchromism and Cubism. In 1912 he returned to the U.S. and settled in New York City. Failing in his attempts at Modernism, he set out to travel through the rural heartland, sketching people and places. In the 1930s he painted several notable murals, including America Today (1930–31) at the New School for Social Research. He often transposed biblical and classical stories to rural American settings, as in Susanna and the Elders (1938). His style, which quickly became influential, is characterized by undulating forms, cartoonlike figures, and brilliant colour. He taught at the Art Students League in New York, where Jackson Pollock was his best-known student.IIborn March 14, 1782, near Hillsborough, N.C., U.S.died April 10, 1858, Washington, D.C.U.S. politician.After moving to St. Louis, Mo. (1815), he became editor of the St. Louis Enquirer. Appealing to agrarian and commercial interests, he won election to the U.S. Senate in 1820. He became a crusader for the distribution of public lands to settlers and was soon acknowledged as the chief spokesman in the Senate of the early Democratic Party. His opposition to the extension of slavery into the West cost him his Senate seat in 1851, though he later served in the House of Representatives (1853–55). His grandnephew was the artist Thomas Hart Benton.
* * *▪ American painterborn April 15, 1889, Neosho, Mo., U.S.died Jan. 19, 1975, Kansas City, Mo.one of the foremost painters and muralists associated with the American Regionalists of the 1930s.The son of a member of Congress, Benton worked as a cartoonist for the Joplin (Missouri) American in 1906 and then studied at the Art Institute of Chicago. He studied at the Académie Julian during a three-year stay in Paris and was briefly influenced by such modern movements as Synchromism and Cubism. Upon his return to the United States he moved in avant-garde art circles, but he abandoned modernism about 1920, and in 1924 he began traveling through the rural American South and Midwest, sketching the scenes and people he encountered.Benton emerged as the spokesman for the American Regionalist painters about 1929. His portrayals of Midwestern people and landscapes are done in an original style marked by rhythmically undulating forms and plasticity of movement, stylized features, cartoonlike figures, and brilliant colour. Like his fellow Regionalists, Benton was impatient with the domination of French art and believed that the rural areas of the South and Midwest were the source and strength of American art.In the 1930s Benton painted a number of notable murals, among them several “City Scenes” (1930–31) for the New School for Social Research in New York City and the “Arts of the West” (1932; now in New Britain Museum of American Art, New Britain, Conn.) for the Whitney Museum of American Art. He frequently transposed biblical and classical stories to rural American settings, as in “Susanna and the Elders” (1938) and “Persephone” (1939).Benton taught at the Art Students League in New York City, where Jackson Pollock was one of his pupils, and from 1935 to 1941 at the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design, Kansas City, Mo.▪ American writer and politicianborn March 14, 1782, near Hillsborough, N.C., U.S.died April 10, 1858, Washington, D.C.American writer and Democratic Party leader who championed agrarian interests and westward expansion during his 30-year tenure as a senator from Missouri.After military service in the War of 1812, Benton settled in St. Louis, Mo., in 1815 and became editor of the St. Louis Enquirer (1818–20). Vigorously asserting that the West must “share in the destinies of this Republic,” he appealed to a mixture of agrarian, commercial, and slaveholding interests and was elected a U.S. senator in 1820, an office he held until 1851.Building an electoral base among small farmers and traders in the mid-1820s, Benton became a crusader for the distribution of public lands to settlers. His views on many issues grew to coincide with those of President Andrew Jackson (Jackson, Andrew), and he was soon acknowledged as the chief spokesman for the Democratic Party in the Senate. In the 1830s he led in Congress Jackson's successful fight to dissolve the Bank of the United States. Benton also eschewed wildcat state banks as economically unsound; rather, he advocated a federal independent treasury and a hard-money policy.Although he was generally considered proslavery and pro-Southern and was an early supporter of statehood for Missouri without restriction on bondage, in the 1840s he came to oppose the extension of slavery into the territories on the grounds that it inhibited the national growth and was a menace both to the Union and to his vision of the freeholder's Arcadia. This steadfast antislavery position, applied repeatedly to emotionally charged sectional issues, finally cost him his Senate seat in 1851. He continued his opposition in the House of Representatives, however, from 1853 to 1855. Unlike many other antislavery Democrats, he rejected the newly formed Republican Party, and he went so far as to oppose his own son-in-law, John C. Frémont (Frémont, John C), as Republican presidential nominee (1856).Benton's imposing memoir-history of his years in the Senate, Thirty Years' View, 2 vol. (1854–56), was eloquent with agrarian and Jacksonian Democratic faith, opposition to slavery extension, and concern for the imperiled Union. He produced a learned Examination of the Supreme Court's Dred Scott decision in 1858 (which reaffirmed that the status of slaves, as property, could not be affected by federal legislation), and his 16-volume Abridgement of the Debates of Congress through 1850 is still useful.
* * *