The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate,
MD, Senior Contributing Editor.
The American Scene painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) was the scion
of a politically prominent Missouri family. His great uncle, for whom he was
named, had been a US senator from Missouri during the 1840s and his father
had served in the US House of Representatives from 1897 to 1905. In 1841,
his 16-year-old aunt eloped with the 28-year-old John Charles Frémont,
who with Kit Carson would open the Oregon Trail. Benton himself never formally
entered politics, nor did he blaze a wagon trail west; his "stump speeches"
were his highly charged and often controversial paintings of Americans and
their history; the trail he blazed, with fellow Midwesterners Grant Wood and
John Steuart Curry, was as much a frontier as the uncharted West of the 1840s.
Their painting was uniquely American, not only in its content, but in form
as well. Benton's style was vigorous, muscular, and filled with a kind of
electricity, whether the subject be an Oklahoma gusher, a Kansas tornado,
or a simple basket of roses. By the 1930s, the three—Benton from Missouri,
Wood from Iowa, and Curry from Kansas—had become the undisputed triumvirate
of American Scene painting. Although the term Regionalism is sometimes used
synonymously for their style, it does not accurately describe the broader
scope Benton intended: he saw it as national rather than regional, American
rather than Midwestern.
Southgate MT. Pussycat and Roses. JAMA. 2004;292(6):661. doi:10.1001/jama.292.6.661