DescriptionTHOMAS HART BENTON (American, 1889-1975)
Two Bathers, circa 1919-21
Watercolor and pencil on paper
10 x 8 inches (25.4 x 20.3 cm)
Initialled lower right: B
Gift of Rita Piacenza Benton, wife of the artist, to Margaret "Molly" Ablitt (1913-1989), who lived on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts;
By descent to the present owner.
This watercolor of an heroic male bather standing beside a woman in a bathing suit crouched near his feet dates from circa 1919-21, a short but important phase in Benton's artistic development from which extant works are exceedingly rare. The subject of monumental bathers was one Benton explored during the years he first began visiting Martha's Vineyard, before the island had become a fashionable summer resort. By the c. 1919-20, Benton had begun to move beyond his most intensely Modernist idiom--the so-called Synchromist phase of his career--which he developed some five years earlier in New York in concert with Stanton Macdonald-Wright. In his Synchromist abstractions, which melded prismatic color with geometric shapes drawn from Cubism, Benton suppressed overt representation to let color carry the design. As he moved away from pure abstraction in this and related works, the figure in the landscape re-emerged, albeit with extreme simplicity of shape and minimal articulation of surface detail. There is a pronounced Art Deco feeling to the design of Two Bathers.
In Two Bathers, vestiges of Benton's Synchromist experiments nonetheless remain, both in the rainbow-colored palette and in the curious pure geometries present in the distant background zone on the far left, which actually refer to rocks on the beach. In related works from roughly the same period, including his famous Self-Portrait with Rita, South Beach (oil on canvas, 1922, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C., gift of Mr. and Mrs. jack H. Mooney), in which Benton himself is the Adonis with the impressive six-pack abdominal muscles, Benton includes similar bold geometries in his composition, i.e., the angular boulder at bottom center and the jaunty tabletop on which he rests his hand with the blank watch face (a symbol for the timelessness of art).
This watercolor was a gift to the present owner's mother, Margaret Ablitt, when she was living on Martha's Vineyard. Her grandfather, William Owen, built and ran the first bank on the Island. Ablitt herself was an artist and had been a friend of Tom Benton's.
We are grateful to Dr. Henry Adams who has confirmed the authenticity of this watercolor as an early work by Thomas Hart Benton based upon firsthand examination. He dates the work to the period circa 1919-1921.
Repaired tear in lower right corner. Time toning of paper commensurate with age and paper type; scattered foxing.
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