Thomas Hart Benton by Justin Wolff
A Life

62%

9 Critic Reviews

Mr. Wolff fills in the life of Thomas Hart Benton, but his insights don't quite explain the mysterious fascination Benton provoked.
-Wall Street Journal

Synopsis

Born in Missouri at the end of the nineteenth century, Thomas Hart Benton would become the most notorious and celebrated painter America had ever seen. The first artist to make the cover of Time, he was a true original: an heir to both the rollicking populism of his father’s political family and the quiet life of his Appalachian grandfather. In his twenties, he would find his calling in New York, where he was drawn to memories of his small-town youth—and to visions of the American scene.

By the mid-1930s, Benton’s heroic murals were featured in galleries, statehouses, universities, and museums, and magazines commissioned him to report on the stories of the day. Yet even as the nation learned his name, he was often scorned by critics and political commentators, many of whom found him too nationalistic and his art too regressive. Even Jackson Pollock, his once devoted former student, would turn away from him in dramatic fashion. A boxer in his youth, Benton was quick to fight back, but the widespread backlash had an impact—and foreshadowed many of the artistic debates that would dominate the coming decades.

In this definitive biography, Justin Wolff places Benton in the context of his tumultuous historical moment—as well as in the landscapes and cultural circles that inspired him. Thomas Hart Benton—with compelling insights into Benton’s art, his philosophy, and his family history—rescues a great American artist from myth and hearsay, and provides an indelibly moving portrait of an influential, controversial, and often misunderstood man.

 

About Justin Wolff

See more books from this Author
Justin Wolff is an assistant professor of art history at the University of Maine. He is the author of Richard Caton Woodville: American Painter, Artful Dodger.
 
Published March 13, 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 416 pages
Genres: Education & Reference, Biographies & Memoirs, History, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for Thomas Hart Benton
All: 9 | Positive: 5 | Negative: 4

Kirkus

Below average
Reviewed by Kirkus Reviews on Dec 18 2011

It’s jarring, as is Wolff’s habit of jumping decades ahead in chronology within a single paragraph.

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Publishers Weekly

Excellent
Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on Nov 21 2011

This is a lucid and engaging study of the artist’s life in its historical context.

Read Full Review of Thomas Hart Benton : A Life | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by Holland Cotter on Jun 29 2012

Some biographies edit out ambiguity; they want us to love or loathe their subjects. Wolff takes the opposite tack. He lays out all of Benton’s contrarieties, argues them through, prosecuting, defending, and usually leaves them as he found them.

Read Full Review of Thomas Hart Benton : A Life | See more reviews from NY Times

Wall Street Journal

Below average
Reviewed by Henry Allen on Mar 10 2012

Mr. Wolff fills in the life of Thomas Hart Benton, but his insights don't quite explain the mysterious fascination Benton provoked.

Read Full Review of Thomas Hart Benton : A Life | See more reviews from Wall Street Journal

Dallas News

Excellent
Reviewed by Bill Marvel on Apr 13 2012

The author... plants the artist in the politics of his time and deftly traces the artistic influences that eventually brought Benton to his mature style

Read Full Review of Thomas Hart Benton : A Life

Review (Barnes & Noble)

Below average
Reviewed by Jason Farago on Mar 29 2012

Benton was a bruiser, but in Wolff's hands he can seem positively tender at times.

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St. Louis Today

Excellent
Reviewed by Jules Wagman on Mar 17 2012

...a study of Benton's life and work that is both learned and lively

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Kansas City Star

Excellent
Reviewed by Donna Seaman on Apr 05 2012

Wolff’s biography succeeds in recalibrating our appreciation for a quintessential American artist and his perpetually provoking art.

Read Full Review of Thomas Hart Benton : A Life

Ken Greenleaf

Below average
Reviewed by Ken Greenleaf on Mar 28 2012

Reading Thomas Hart Benton: A Life hasn't elicited a desire to see more.

Read Full Review of Thomas Hart Benton : A Life

Reader Rating for Thomas Hart Benton
72%

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