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Thomas Hart Benton

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Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)

Thomas Hart Benton was the son of a Congressman from the state of Missouri and the namesake of one of the first Senators from that state.  His extensive career started with studying at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1908 before moving to Europe to experiment with Expressionism, Cubism and other styles.  Returning stateside in 1912, he continued his career in Missouri and New York City.  Late in World War I, he joined the Navy as a draftsman which the artist claims shifted his attention back to the objective style for his artwork.  Working on the East Coast and Midwest, he became a Regionalist painter – depicting Americans as “down to earth” types showing their everyday actions and appearance. 

Moved by the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, Benton completed seven large paintings known as the “Year of Peril” series.  These were published as books and posters by Abbott Laboratories – a pharmaceutical company that was producing necessary and improved drugs for the war effort.  The president of the company found a way to give back to the war effort by sponsoring artists to depict military subject matter for use by the Department of Defense public relations.  For Abbott Labs, Benton created 25 artworks, showcasing what he witnessed on board the submarine USS Dorado and LSTs along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  These original paintings and drawings were turned over by Abbott Labs to the Navy and comprise the artwork within this exhibition.