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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Hart Benton’

This post comes to us from Ronald Abbe, Museum Docent.

Jane Avril, 1895. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Color lithograph. Herakleidon Museum, Athens, Greece

Jane Avril, 1895. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Color lithograph. Herakleidon Museum, Athens, Greece

Toulouse Lautrec has come to the New Britain Museum of American Art. Is he an alien presence or a comfortable fit?  The answer is obvious when one views the connections between his art and the work that emulates it elsewhere in the Museum.

Lautrec was an innovator.  He tried to find a way to capture a moment in the most dramatic way possible.  His cropped compositions make his scenes seem to be glimpsed in passing.  The asymmetry of his arrangements and the daring exaggeration of figures and faces make his scenes come alive.  These effects were startling in the late l9th century but so were photography and the new printing process of lithography.  Quickly, the public found his poster lithographs exciting, and soon there was a craving in Paris for all things new.

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The acquisition by the Metropolitan Museum of Art of Thomas Hart Benton’s groundbreaking mural America Today has aroused new interest in Benton’s murals.  America Today was commissioned by the New School for Social Research in 1930.  Two years later, Gertrude Vanderbilt, who had seen America Today commissioned Benton to create a similar mural for the Whitney Museum titled The Arts of Life in America.

The tale of those two murals offers a tragi-comic history of benign neglect and changes in critical perception that would affect the prestige and desirability of Benton’s work.  Both works passed from fame to disregard and back to fame.

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America Today: Changing West, 1930-31. Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975). Egg tempera with oil glazing. Gift of AXA Equitable to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Untitled, 2011. Swoon. Wheat pasting and stencil. Brooklyn, NY.

Since the days of ancient Greece, public art has existed as a major art form.  Religious and social art was vigorously implemented by the Greeks to bolster public confidence in the empire.  America experienced a similar phenomenon after the Great Depression when government-sponsored mural projects proliferated throughout major cities in order to reinvigorate public spirit.  The unsanctioned street art of today also communicates socially relevant themes to the public, but does so in a way that often subverts and questions dominant political authority.

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Washington Square Park, New York City

Washington Square Park, New York City

New York City has hundreds of iconic landmarks, parks, monuments, streets, and buildings. During the early 20th century it was a bustling city, full of excitement, investment, and room for expansion and it quickly became a destination for travelers, immigrants, and artists. Art societies and academics became widely accepted and popular, and popped up all over the city. The depictions of New York increased dramatically throughout this time period. This metropolitan destination  could not be missed by any one in the art world, and many moved there to be part of the burgeoning art scene. Therefore, it is no surprise that dozens of prominent artists in the NBMAA’s collection lived and worked in New York City, and derived endless inspiration from the city. (more…)

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Chester Harding's Mrs. Samuel Appleton

Mrs. Samuel Appleton (Julia Webster). Chester Harding (1792-1866). Oil on canvas, 49 x 40 7/8 in. New Britain Museum of American Art, John Butler Talcott Foundation, 1972.91.

Are museums:

  1. 1. Places to preserve history,
  2. 2. Places to establish new history, or
  3. 3. Places to encourage creative growth?

Can there be a fourth choice- All of the above?

The New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA) is an interesting example that falls into the “All of the above” category. The facilities of the NBMAA include a variety of galleries that tell the story of Art History in America, while allowing contemporary artists to show us what tomorrow’s  textbooks might include. In addition, the museum has two spaces that allow for the artistic exploration and expression of children and adults alike.

On the first floor of the NBMAA’s gallery space, visitors can literally walk through the history of American art. The central hall features the Museum’s illustration collection, while rooms branching off allow the visitor to stroll through galleries highlighting Colonial Portraiture, the Hudson River School, 19th-20th Century Academic and Genre paintings, and American Impressionism. (more…)

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Arts of the City (detail), 1932. Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975). Tempera with oil glaze, 96 x 264 in. New Britain Museum of American Art, Harriet Russell Stanley Fund, 1953.19.

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) painted The Arts of Life in America (1932) during the depths of the Great Depression. The series provided the artist with the second most complex project of his emerging career. His slightly earlier New School Murals portrayed America at work while The Arts of Life described America at play.  He was intensely ambitious and wanted to create murals that would inspire Americans to overcome the almost insurmountable difficulties they were facing.

As a young man, Benton was torn between following in the footsteps of his father, a congressman, and his great uncle, Senator Thomas Hart Benton. His mother, however, encouraged him to become an artist, and he studied at the Art Institute School in Chicago and at the Académie Julian in Paris. (more…)

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The Elephant in the Room, 2010. Elana Herzog (b. 1954) Pencil, textile, metal staples, pushpins, etc. Collection of the artist

The current NEW/NOW exhibition features the unique installations and works on paper of Elana Herzog, a New York based installation artist. By attaching found textiles—often shredded bedspreads and other fabrics—to walls using thousands of judiciously placed metal staples, Elana Herzog creates patterns of color and form directly on the wall. She further dramatizes this process by ripping away some parts of the stapled textiles and leaving evidence of where the fasteners once were. Her work is part performance because the creative phase is punctuated by the ebb and flow of application and removal, addition and subtraction, creation and destruction. (more…)

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