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Thomas Hart Benton

Upper Midwestern Artists | 1889–1975 | Neosho, Missouri

Thomas Hart Benton was born in Neosho, Missouri. His father was a lawyer and United States congressman and his great-uncle (his namesake) was one of the two first United States Senators from Missouri. As a teenager, he worked as a cartoonist for the Joplin American newspaper, in Joplin, Missouri. In 1907 he enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago, then left to study at the Academie Julien in Paris, one of the most important art schools in France.

Benton is one of the three most important Regionalist artists, along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry. He came to prominence in 1932 when he was commissioned to paint the Indiana murals for the 1933 Century of Progress exhibition. His mural resulted in a public outcry (and a Time Magazine cover story for the December 24, 1934 issue) against the unflattering picture that included Ku Klux Klan in their full costume. Shortly afterwards, he began teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri. Among his students was the future Abstract Expressionist, Jackson Pollock, whose drip paintings would become famous in the 1950s.