DescriptionThomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975)
Negro Head, circa 1924
Watercolor on paper
20 x 16-1/4 inches (50.8 x 41.3 cm) (sheet)
Signed lower right: Benton
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED NEW YORK COLLECTION
Thomas Hart Benton Testamentary Trust;
John H. Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida;
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Daniel Gallery, New York, "In Missoura," 1924.
H. Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: Drawing from Life, 1990, New York, p. 96, illustrated.
When he moved to New York, Thomas Hart Benton became estranged from his father, attorney and former U.S. Congressman Maecenas E. Benton, and did not see him for roughly a decade. But in 1924 the two reconnected when M.E. developed throat cancer, and Benton went back to Missouri to be at his bedside when he died. In his autobiography, An Artist in America (1937; McBride) Benton singled out this moment as the most significant turning point of his career. It marked the point at which he moved away from Modernist art, and the struggle to organize abstract forms, and turned to American subject matter. As Benton later wrote:
"I was moved by a desire to pick up again the thread of my childhood. To my itch for going places there was injected a thread of purpose which, however slight as a far-reaching philosophy, was to make the next ten years of my life a rich texture of varied expe
While visit his dying father Benton made a series of watercolors of Missouri characters and picturesque places that he exhibited later that year at the Daniel Gallery under the titled "In Missoura." Their originality was noted by Lloyd Goodrich, who wrote a review praising them, and comparing their lively qualities to the writings of Mark Twain. "He has struck a rich vein," Goodrich declared, "and it is to be hoped that he will continue to work it." (Lloyd Goodrich, "In Missoura," Arts, vol.6, December 1924, page 338.)
Negro Head is one of the best of this group of watercolors and was included in the most complete survey exhibition of Benton's drawings, Thomas Hart Benton: Drawing from Life, 1990, organized by Henry Adams, and accompanied by a book published by Abbeville Press. This drawing is reproduced on page 96, at which time it belonged to The Benton Trust.
We are grateful to Dr. Henry Adams, Ruth Coulter Heede Professor of Art History, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio for his generous assistance in catalogue this lot.
Sheet is secured to archival backing board with archival corners; paper appears to slightly yellowed; there is an approx. 10 inch crease in lower right corner; a few minute tears along extreme lower edge and another at left center edge; an approx. 1.5 inch restored tear at center left edge, an approx. 3 inch restored tear at left top edge, and an approx. .25 inch U-shaped tear, almost creating loss, at center right edge; a dot of discoloration above figure's head; vestiges of old adhesive along the left edge; soft handling creases and minor rippling to paper; framed under acrylic. Framed Dimensions 31.5 X 36.5 Inches
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