Thomas Hart Benton, arguably the single most controversial figure in the history of American art, played a major role in shaping three separate movements in American art: the early American modernism of the 1910s and ‘20s; the Regionalism of the 1930s (a movement he led in partnership with Grant Wood); and finally (through his influence on Jackson Pollock) the Abstract Expressionism of the 1940s.
Benton was also a notable writer, whose autobiography, An Artist in America, became a best seller. He was a gifted musician who collected folk tunes, devised a new form of musical notation for the harmonica (which is still widely used by music publishers), and performed with his son on a record produced by Decca Records, Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s. No other American artist has generated so many myths – or so many misunderstandings.
This new book of essays by Henry Adams – who organized a major retrospective of Benton’s work in 1989 on the centennial of the artist’s birth, worked on a documentary about Benton with Ken Burns, and compiled a catalogue raisonné of his paintings – is selected from twenty-five years of writing on Benton and the controversies about his work. Varied in their approaches, these essays from an intimate biography of Benton in a series of close-up snapshots that hone in on key questions about his work.
About the Author
Henry Adams is a graduate of Harvard University and received his MA and Ph.D from Yale, where he received the Frances Blanshard Prize for the best doctoral dissertation in Art History. He is the author of more than 350 publications on American art, including Eakins Revealed, which Andrew Wyeth described as “without question the most extraordinary biography I have ever read on an artist.” Currently the Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History at Case Western Reserve University, he is widely regarded as the foremost scholar of Thomas Hart Benton’s work. He was the curator of the centennial exhibition of Benton’s work at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in 1989. In partnership with film maker Ken Burns, he developed a documentary film on Benton which was broadcast nationally on PBS to an audience of over 20 million.
Published by University of Missouri Press, hardback, 2015. 336 pages. 54 illustrations.