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Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood

Thomas Hart Benton, Hollywood, 1937–38, tempera and oil on canvas mounted on board, 56 × 84". © Benton Testamentary Trusts/UMB Bank Trustee/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

WALT WHITMAN heard America singing; Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) heard the nation shouting, snapping its suspenders, slapping itself on the back, and dancing a buck-and-wing.

That’s entertainment! And so it’s the not-illogical and even downright innerestin’ premise of “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood”—the first major exhibition of the artist’s work since his centennial Whitney retrospective in 1989—that our corn-fed, self-appointed Tintoretto should be seen in the context of those celluloid mythmakers who, like him, brought Renaissance production values into the twentieth century.

Benton did, in fact, have an early involvement with the motion-picture industry. Returning to America in 1911 after three years soaking up Cubism in Paris, he settled in New York City and found odd jobs with the movie studios still located in Brooklyn and Fort Lee, New Jersey.

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