Springfield Museums, EXHIBIT: Thomas Hart Benton
September 4 - November 4
Through December 30, A visiting masterwork by celebrated Regional artist Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975) is the centerpiece of a small exhibition exploring the artist’s expressive narrative style and interest in capturing the social history of his era. The 1946 painting titled New England Editor depicts New Bedford, Massachusetts, newspaper editor George A. Hough. He is portrayed as an embodiment of fair and honest journalism. Benton shows him writing the word “unless”—a reference to the editor’s legendary approach to journalism that unless the reporter had exhausted all possible sources, the story was not ready to hand in.
For the first time ever, this oil painting is displayed alongside Benton prints and a watercolor from the collection of the D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts. Benton’s expressive narrative style and larger interest in capturing contemporary American life—the life of everyday people—are clearly evident in his black and white lithographs. In these examples of Benton’s work we see the sinewy curves of arms accustomed to heavy lifting and little food, the worried brows and the loose skin of the aged that read as heroic, weary but stalwart. Benton’s subjects are resilient, humble, and infinitely admirable.
Thomas Hart Benton, New England Editor, 1946, Oil and tempera on gessoed panel, (46.1456). Collection Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Hayden Collection – Charles Henry Hayden Fund. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Standing in front of the portrait, now installed in the Early 20th Century Gallery, the remarkable colors found in the New England Editor animate the space and draw the viewer’s eye to other paintings in the room. The rich phthalo blue of Springfield native Harold Rabinovitz’s Café Scene (c. 1939) is visible out of the corner of your eye as you look at the Benton, a flash like a blue bird that makes you turn your head to see what you might otherwise miss. Similarly the azure blue of the sky in Georgia O’Keeffe’s New Mexican Landscape (1930) harmonizes with a quiet serenity with the sea-blue-green of the walls that surround Benton’s editor, evoking the out-of-doors and reminding us all that color is one of the many rich gifts of this earth.
Supported in part by Art Bridges, related programing in the fall will focus on exploring notions of integrity in the news, contemporary communication, and the use of portraiture for political or social commentary.
The Benton masterpiece is on loan to the Springfield Museums as part of a six-year, five-museum collaboration initiated by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and supported by Terra-Art Bridges. The museums involved are the Boston MFA, the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts (Springfield, Mass.), Fenimore Art Museum (Cooperstown, N.Y.), Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute (Utica, N.Y.) and the Mattatuck Museum (Waterbury, Conn.). The cohort museums will work together to co-organize a series of traveling exhibitions over the next six years, drawing on the combined breadth and depth of their holdings and to encourage engagement with American art within different communities.