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The Cover
August 11, 2004

Pussycat and Roses

Author Affiliations

The Cover Section Editor: M. Therese Southgate, MD, Senior Contributing Editor.

JAMA. 2004;292(6):661. doi:10.1001/jama.292.6.661

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.