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    Description

    THOMAS HART BENTON (American, 1889-1975)
    Train Out West, circa 1951
    Ink, sepia wash, and pencil on buff paper
    8-7/8 x 11-7/8 inches (22.5 x 30.2 cm)
    Signed lower right in ink: Benton

    PROVENANCE:
    Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, in 1991 (gallery inv. no. inscribed in pencil on verso of sheet: APG 14327D.15);
    Private collection.

    LITERATURE:
    Benton's America: Works on Paper and Selected Drawings, intro. by Douglas Dreishpoon, Hirschl and Adler Galleries, New York, 1991, ill. #31, p. 42; cat. no. 55, p. 59.

    EXHIBITED:
    New York, Hirschl and Adler Galleries, Benton's America: Works on Paper and Selected Drawings, January 19-March 2, 1991.

    One of the annoying things about Thomas Hart Benton, and also one of the most endearing, is that when he was brutally criticized later in his career for being reactionary, for being a Fascist, for being an anti-Semite--all because he continued to make representational art--rather than retreating he became even more intense in his realism.

    This deep, sweeping landscape drawing is a marvelous example of the way Benton responded to these and many other accusations, most of which were entirely untrue. In this Western vista complete with his ubiquitous train, there is a certain restraint in his handling, which stands in notable contrast to his earlier, more spirited efforts of similar subjects. In this work, Benton has stepped back from his theme--the American landscape--which he had traditionally heroicized, to gain a broader view and perhaps strive for a more objective approach to a motif that was very familiar, and dear, to him.

    As Henry Adams has thoughtfully pointed out in private correspondence with Heritage, 'Benton was angry when he was making this drawing and others like it. He was at a very low point in his career. In this drawing, you can feel him digging in his heels, insisting that his idiom is something worthy and he's going to stay his course. Despite the tension in works like this, there is still a lot of freedom to his draftsmanship. When you know what's happening in Benton's life, you can see it in his work and gain a greater understanding of why he's doing what he's doing.'

    The funnel of space characterizing this drawing is not something one finds in works from Benton's earlier career. He used the convention in his murals, but there it functioned as a theatrical, explosive device. In the later work the funnel functions as a repoussoir, holding the viewer at bay, at an objective distance from the subject. The compositional device seemed to be something Benton adopted as a kind of armor, to keep the critical jabs just slightly out of reach.

    Benton's choice to draw and paint 'big landscapes' out West, at a time he was feeling particularly under siege artistically, is noteworthy. This type of landscape held special emotional meaning for him and was something he wrote about with tremendous feeling in his autobiography, An Artist in America, New York, 1937, p. 200. One particular passage could serve as a perfect caption to the present drawing for it contains the love, passion, and the suppressed anger he channeled into his art:

    'For me the Great Plains have a releasing effect. They make me want to run and shout at the top of my voice. I like their endlessness. I like the way they make human beings appear as the little bugs they really are. I like the way they make thought seem futile and ideas but the silly vapors of the physically disordered. To think out on the Great Plains, under the immense rolling skies and before the equally immense roll of the earth, becomes a presumptuous absurdity. Human effort is seen there in all its pitiful futility. The universe is unveiled there, stripped to dirt and air, to wind, dust, cloud, and the white sun. The indifference of the physical world to all human efforts stands revealed as hard inescapable fact.'

    Many thanks to Dr. Henry Adams who examined this drawing in the original, deems it a fully autograph work by Benton, and endorses a date of circa 1951 for its production.




    Condition Report*: Drawing is in very good condition. The extreme upper right corner of the sheet (not affecting the image) was professionally repaired where there was a small paper loss. A tiny spot of abrasion on the surface of the paper just right of lower center is present. The faintest of window marks appears around the drawing's perimeter edge.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2011
    17th Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 19
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 2,070

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    19.5% of the successful bid (minimum $14) per lot.

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