Friday, August 21, 2020

How Thomas Hart Benton Paints a Mural

This brief documentary from 1947 shows how Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) produces a mural. (Link to YouTube video)

He starts with thumbnail sketches that emphasizes abstract rhythms, then he sculpts a maquette to work out the arrangement of figures and the lighting.

He brings in models to take each of the poses and sculpts more exact maquettes before scaling up the final "cartoon," or comprehensive line drawing, to the full size of the mural.

Thomas Hart Benton, Achelous and Hercules mural, 1947,
created for the  Harzfeld's Department Store in Kansas City,
Now kept at the Smithsonian Institution. 

The final mural illustrates a scene from ancient mythology in terms of the American heartland. Once you see his process, you can see why his paintings have such a 3D presence despite the expressionistic styling of the poses.
Thanks, Mark Giaimo


Susan Krzywicki said...

This is probably slightly off-topic, but the video prompted this thought: at this time there was that split with realism vs abstract art. The new generation rebelled, and they moved from the highly refined, technical, tool-oriented art to something raw and primitive...whatever the word primitive means.

Do you think that all upheavals follow this course: a movement takes place, it is refined until rigidity sets in, there is a revolution, then that revolution is replaced by people who hearken back to the technical competence of the last era?

The revolution washes over almost everyone, but a few pluck out the good stuff from the last movement and transform it into s splinter for the future. Am I making any sort of sense?

Sara Light-waller said...

Thanks so much for posting this! I'm an illustrator just moving into mural work and seeing this masterful process is most helpful. Cheers!

A Colonel of Truth said...


Jim Douglas said...

This video depressed the hell out of me. Here's why: In 1947, the president of a Midwestern department store had the vision, funding, and interest to hire a great artist to illustrate "an old legend of man's struggle to master his environment." He paid him enough to spend "nearly eight months" crafting "a lasting contribution to the art of America and of the world." I assure you this sort of client no longer exists. What a shame.

R. A. Davies said...

The Mons Lisa Curse with Robert Hughes is a brilliant documentary but is sadly no longer free on the internet. Another great film is “Exit Through the Gift Shop,” oh, and “Art School Confidential”

Jtoritto said...

wonderful wonderful wonderful!!!!!!! thank you for posting this. I learned so much!

madillstudio said...

Interesting from a technical standpoint. I like the clay maquette stage, which was very cool to see on video. I wonder, though, how many department store shoppers at the time considered how much influence (from 1920 and on, post-revolution Mexico) for example, the "los tres grandes" (Orzco, Rivera, and Siqueiros) had on American muralists, including Benton.

RotM_81 said...

That’s a fascinating and very involved process! The Ken Burns doc on him is excellent.

CerverGirl said...

I love his works and saw some on a Kansas City visit. Spectacular in person if you have the chance. Thank you for sharing his process.