Who was American Artist Thomas Hart Benton?

“I have a sort of inner conviction that for all the possible limitations of my mind and the disturbing effects of my processes, for all the contradicting struggles and failures I have gone through, I have come to something that is in the image of America and the American people of my time.” -Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton

Born in April of 1889 in Neosho, Missouri to a political father and artistic mother, Thomas Hart Benton would eventually grow up to become one of the most influential and memorable American painters from our history. A forerunner of the Regionalist art movement, he considered himself an “enemy of Modernism.” His bustling, crowded and colorful murals and paintings reflected the rawness of the average working American which is precisely why he has been referred to as the “anthropologist of American life.” Quite often Benton’s paintings evoked extreme controversy among fellow artists, the church and art critics.

The Source of Country Music by Thomas Hart Benton
The Source of Country Music, a 6-foot by 10-foot mural commissioned by Nashville’s Country Music Foundation

Benton fell in love with music late in life when he picked up a harmonica at the age of 41. He had grown up in Southern Missouri listening to country and folk music so, naturally, when he learned to play the harmonica his tunes were distinctly folk. Benton devoted himself to music so much that he even created a new musical notation that is still used today, as well as released his own country music album entitled “Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s.” His huge 6 by 10-foot mural, “The Source of Country Music,” was commissioned by the Country Music Foundation and demonstrates his fondness and experience with the country music genre.

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