Exhibition Archives



May 29 | September 8

Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton—two great American artists whom the McNay has collected in considerable depth—attempted to define what was American about American art in the early 20th century. Along with John Steuart Curry, also represented in the show, these artists generally shunned European prototypes and influences, turning their attention to the still predominately rural culture of the nation to find the truth of the American experience. Quite leery of big cities, their anti-urban sentiments could be surprisingly strong. Wood once quoted Thomas Jefferson, saying cities were “ulcers on the body politic.”

Because of their focus on specific landscapes and cultures throughout the Midwest, Wood and Benton were often referred to as “Regionalists.” Wood’s masterpiece Sultry Night (1939) is typical of their aesthetic. A nude farmer stands next to a watering trough about to cool himself off with a bucket of water after a long day of labor in the fields. The image is suffused with a sense of quiet, as well as reverence for nature and the working man.

Benton’s Letter from Overseas (1943) reveals the dramas that war unleashed on American farms. A woman in a simple dress and bare feet reads a letter by kerosene lamp as the postman delivers mail to the next homestead down a winding road. The woman’s solitude as well as the swirling, tumultuous sky hint that a loved one—a son or husband, perhaps—has gone to fight in World War II.

Wood and Benton had a tremendous influence on American art in the 1930s and 40s. Illustrating this influence are works by George Schreiber, John de Martelly, Louisiana artist John McCrady, and Texas artists Blanche McVeigh and Edward Eisenlohr.

This exhibition was organized by the McNay Art Museum.

The Elizabeth Huth Coates Exhibition Endowment and the Arthur and Jane Stieren Fund for Exhibitions are generously funding this exhibition.

Gallery Talk: The America of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton
Thursday, July 11, 6:30 pm, Lawson Print Gallery

Lyle Williams, Curator, Prints and Drawings



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