Thomas Hart Benton: A Life

Justin Wolff. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (432p) ISBN 978-0-374-19987-6
Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) had a clear mission as a painter: to be, as Wolff puts it, the “most American” artist. But as an individual, Wolff argues in this comprehensive and critically astute biography, Benton was far more complicated: belligerent, vulgar, and with tendencies toward antielitism and political and cultural conservatism. University of Maine art historian Wolff (Richard Caton Woodville: American Painter, Artful Dodger) grounds Benton’s relentless drive and self-confidence in the artist’s political family (Benton’s father was a U.S. congressman and his great-uncle a well-known senator) and shows how Benton’s independent nature and self-proclaimed genius remained constants throughout his training at the Art Institute of Chicago, as a young painter in Paris, and as an increasingly established artist in New York City interested in the power and necessity of art to express common experience. Wolff illuminates Benton’s internal life and aesthetic development; sections on his artistic philosophy based in art’s ability to transform society and restore lost American folk culture in a corporate, industrial context are some of the book’s most interesting, while analyses of Benton’s individual works are strong on critical reception and historical context but weaker on aesthetic interpretation. This is a lucid and engaging study of the artist’s life in its historical context. Agent: Sarah Chalfant. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 11/21/2011
Release date: 03/13/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-1-4299-5028-2
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-374-53374-8
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