THOMAS HART BENTON (TV)

Summary

This documentary, narrated by Jason Robards, examines the life of the American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), and features interviews with family, friends, critics, and historians, as well as photos and film footage of Benton and his work. During the program, the following topics are discussed: Benton's pugnacious persona and the love and hate he engendered; his childhood in Neosho, Missouri, as the grandnephew of Sen. Thomas Hart Benton and the son of Congressman Maecenas E. Benton; the incompatibility of Benton's parents; his mother's encouragement of his artistic aspirations in spite of his father's disapproval; his late teen years as a cartoonist for a Joplin newspaper, and later as a student at the Chicago Art Institute; his humbling studies in Paris; his early days in the New York art scene, a time during which he floundered stylistically; Benton's artistic breakthrough in 1919, when he began building models as the basis for his paintings -- in the manner of Tinteretto -- and abandoned the more theoretical aspects of art to focus on storytelling; his series, "The American Historical Epic"; his interest in exploring the lore of American history in his work; his return to Neosho in 1924 to see his dying father, which led to a renewed interest in his roots; the influence of his father's personality on him; Benton's romance and marriage to an Italian student named Rita Piacenza; the couple's poverty during the early years of their married life in New York; the tremendous support Benton received from Rita, who sought out his first major commission -- mural panels for the New School for Social Research in New York; the criticism leveled at Benton by both the abstractionists and the social realists; the prime of Benton's career (1928-1938); the compositional aspects of his murals; Benton's highly controversial mural for the Indiana exhibit at the 1933 World's Fair; his dream of establishing a distinctly American art with an immediacy for the public; Benton's association with the regionalist school, along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry; Benton's denouncement of the New York art world which he published in 1935, after which he moved back to Missouri to head the painting department at the Kansas City Art Institute; his social history mural for the State Capitol building at Jefferson City, Missouri; Benton's relationship with his most famous student, Jackson Pollock; Benton's increasing loneliness as his career prospered, and his dream to create an Athens in the heartland remained unfulfilled; his candid autobiography, "An Artist in America"; the outrage surrounding two Benton nudes of this period, "Susanna and Her Elders" and "Persephone"; his ouster from the Art Institute; his series of war paintings called "Years of Peril"; the decline of both Benton's work and the relevance of the American regionalists in light of World War II; the rise of the New York School of Abstract Expressionism and the critical dismissal of Benton's work as old-fashioned; the work Benton took during this period, including murals for department stores and book illustrations; Benton's diminishing personal connection with post-war America; the atmosphere of his studio at his Martha's Vineyard summer house; Benton's shift into landscape painting late in life; Rita's brilliant management of the business and household end of Benton's life; his friendship with Harry S. Truman, who commissioned him to paint a mural for his presidential library in Independence, Missouri; Benton's final mural, commissioned by the Country Music Foundation of America; his death, and Rita's death three months later; "The Benton Bash," an annual birthday party held in honor of the late artist; and a summation of his qualities as a painter by friends and students. Includes interviews with and/or footage of the following individuals: writer Dan James, art historian Karal Ann Marling, Benton student Earl Bennett, art critic Hilton Kramer, painter Vincent Campanella, journalist Edward R. Murrow (interviewing Benton on "Person to Person," 1959), Benton's sister Mildred Small, sister-in-law Eleanor Piacenza, friend Lyman Field, Benton student Roger Medearis, painter Sid Larson, Benton's daughter Jessie Benton, friend Henry Scott, critic Arthur Danto, historian Matthew Baigell, art critic Lloyd Goodrich, brother-in-law Santo Piacenza, family friend Dick Craven, curators Henry Adams and Dorothy Miller, painter Raphael Soyer, friend Burl Ives, neighbors Ann and Lee Constable, wife Rita (Piacenza) Benton, friend Peggy Scott, President Harry S. Truman, friend George O'Maley, and acquaintance Joe Wershba.

Cataloging of this program was made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Details

  • NETWORK: PBS
  • DATE: November 1, 1989 Wednesdasy 9:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 1:26:54
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: T:22637
  • GENRE: Arts documentaries
  • SUBJECT HEADING: Artists
  • SERIES RUN: PBS - TV, 1989
  • COMMERCIALS:

CREDITS

    • Julie Dunfey … Producer
    • Ken Burns … Producer
    • Camilla Rockwell … Associate Producer
    • Kitty Eisele … Researcher
    • Jennifer Hardin … Researcher
    • Mike Hill … Researcher
    • Buddy Squires … Cinematography by
    • Henry Adams … Senior Consultant
    • Matthew Baigell … Humanities Consultant
    • William E. Leuchtenburg … Humanities Consultant
    • Karal Ann Marling … Humanities Consultant
    • Geoffrey C. Ward … Writer
    • John Colby … Music (Misc. Credits), Musical Director, Instrumentalist
    • Matt Glaser … Instrumentalist
    • Molly Mason … Instrumentalist
    • Robin Miller … Instrumentalist
    • Evan Stover … Instrumentalist
    • Jay Ungar … Instrumentalist
    • John S. Altman … Music (Misc. Credits), Additional Music Courtesy of
    • Burl Ives … Music (Misc. Credits), Additional Music Courtesy of
    • U & I Band … Music (Misc. Credits), Additional Music Courtesy of
    • Robards, Jason (See also: Robards, Jason, Jr.) … Narrator
    • Earl Bennett
    • Benton, Elizabeth R. (Wise)
    • Jessie Benton
    • Maecenas E. Benton
    • Benton, Rita (Piacenza)
    • Thomas Hart Benton
    • Vincent Campanella
    • Ann Constable
    • Lee Constable
    • Dick Craven
    • John Steuart Curry
    • Arthur Danto
    • Lyman Field
    • Lloyd Goodrich
    • Dan James
    • Hilton Kramer
    • Sid Larson
    • Roger Medearis
    • Dorothy Miller
    • Edward R. Murrow
    • George O'Maley
    • Eleanor Piacenza
    • Santo Piacenza
    • Jackson Pollock
    • Henry Scott
    • Peggy Scott
    • Mildred Small
    • Raphael Soyer
    • Tintoretto (Jacopo Robusti)
    • Harry S. Truman
    • Joe Wershba
    • Grant Wood