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Enlarged Thomas Hart Benton Boomtown
Thomas Hart Benton was an American painter and Muralist. He was born in Neosho, Missouri in April 1889. After spending several years in the U.S. Navy and other travels, he moved to Kansas City and began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute. Benton’s painting entitled “Boomtown” was the result of a summer sketching trip that took him to Borger, Texas. It is considered his first regionalist masterpiece. His verbal description of Borger is confirmed by photographs taken that same year, showing swarms of cars, the “Theatre” and hotel, the billboards and telephone poles, the lines of oil rigs and billowing black smoke. “Boomtown” is not a completely realistic depiction of Borger. Benton took creative liberties when he combined the background billowing smoke and the foreground fight, both events he had sketched on two different days in Borger. Despite his need to establish an American voice through his work, Benton was influenced by European styles. The tipped-up vantage point along with angular shapes of the buildings, and the flatness of the composition reflect the influence of Cubism. To further enhance the scene’s energy and vitality, Benton overstated the vertical elements and oversaturated the color palette in the manner he admired in the works of Tintoretto. To achieve the three-dimensional impact similar to that of Michelangelo’s paintings, Benton molded all his human figures first in clay and studied their poses, shadows, and musculature. The result is a study of energetic rhythm, rich stimulating color, and dynamic objects—all characteristics of a “boomtown.” Thomas Hart Benton painted Persephone in 1939. It depicts the Greek goddess Persephone, resting nude under a tree in a rural Midwestern setting. Persephone has case her red garment and black heels to one side. With hands behind her head, she gazes downward toward the flowers, basket, and book. Benton depicted Hades lustilly gaping at "Persephone" from behind the tree and dressed in farmer's clothes. The farmer's house and car are depicted behind him, and opposite that is lush green farmland. Benton uses hues of green, red, and blue to create this arcadian landscape with rural interpretations of Persephone and Hades. Benton painted this work during his stint as a teacher at the Kansas City Art Institute. The model for Persephone was Imogene Bruton. Bruton modeled for students at the school in the 1930s but abandoned modeling after completing Persephone. She married in 1940, and was later unwilling to talk about her time as a model.