DescriptionTHOMAS HART BENTON (American, 1889-1975)
Still Life with Vase and Fruit, 1923
Oil on canvas
22 x 18 inches (55.9 x 45.7 cm)
Signed lower right: Benton
Dated verso: March 5, 1923
Robert E. Neuse, New York, acquired from the above;
The Neuse family, New York, by descent;
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
H. Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: Drawing from Life, New York, 1990, p. 66, fig. 50, illustrated.
Thomas Hart Benton produced this vivid still life during the years he was forging an artistic career in New York City. The work was acquired directly
from Benton by his then-landlord, Mr. William Neuse, in lieu of payment for rent, which was not an uncommon practice at the time for the fledgling
artist. The current owner purchased these works from John Neuse (William's son) through Martin D. Gold, late of West Cornwall, Connecticut who was a highly respected dealer in rare books and fine art. The Neuse family also owned other works by Thomas Hart Benton from this early phase of his career, including a work commissioned from Benton--a (woodcut) bookplate the artist personally designed for Neuse.
This painting documents a fascinating moment in the career of Benton who was in the process of evolving from a cutting-edge Modernist, and coinventor of the Synchromist movement, to a painter of American life--a movement which eventually became known as Regionalism. This highly sculptural still life possesses the rich coloration typical of Benton's work from the 1920s. The painting's assertive solidity, with little if any textural differentiation between materials of fabric, ceramic, fruit and wooden table top, is a special characteristic of Benton's oils of this period. This unusual property stems from the fact that during the middle years of the 1920s, Benton was an aspiring muralist. To that end he began making clay models as a preliminary stage in his compositional planning process, particularly as a way of working out the spatial relationships between and among objects. He also applied this process to easel paintings such as the present still life. Specifically, Benton found that if he adopted a technique derived
from the Old Masters--specifically Tintoretto and El Greco--and created a scale model of clay figures arranged on an inclined plane, he could then
light the actual model and establish coherent light and shadow patterns to unify the composition which would then serve as the direct reference for the painting. Over the expanse of a large mural, the light source was one of the most critical pictorial properties for achieving visual cohesion. Benton found that if he used Plasticine for the figures instead of actual clay, he could paint the figures easily to work out the palette for the composition in advance. The unusual smoothness of the forms in this still life as well as the lack of surface detail and the sharply titled tabletop point to the likelihood that Benton actually painted a painting of a clay model of fruit rather than real fruit. Thus, in terms of abstraction, Benton's clay model was a first generation abstraction from reality, and the painting a second.
Estimate: $100,000 - $150,000.
Unlined canvas; stretcher creases along all four edges; craquelure; under UV exam, there appears to be inpainting along all four extreme edges to address frame wear, as well as scattered crack-fill inpainting. Framed Dimensions 28 X 24 Inches
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