Painter Thomas Hart Benton said that Martha’s Vineyard was the only place that he ever found peace. Next Tuesday, the is hosting University of Maine professor Justin Wolff who will be discussing his new book, “Thomas Hart Benton: A Life.”
Benton first arrived on the Island in 1918 with his New York City roommate Thomas Craven, a well-known art historian and critic. Benton and his family continued to spend time at their home in Chilmark until his death in 1975. Benton’s enthusiasm for Martha’s Vineyard was evident in many of his works including Bicyclers, Summer Menemsha Pond and Chilmark Landscape.
Craven’s daughter-in-law, Carol Craven, did six substantial shows of Benton’s work over the years at her Carol Craven Gallery. After over 30 years as a gallery owner, Craven closed her gallery on the Island however she still has some Benton pieces available, including Portrait of Thomas Craven, painted in 1912 and believed to be Benton’s earliest known portrait.
Born in Missouri at the end of the nineteenth century, Benton became one of the most notorious and celebrated painters America had ever seen and was the first artist to make the cover of Time Magazine.
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, critics and political commentators, many of who found him too nationalistic and his art too regressive, often scorned him. Even Jackson Pollock, his once devoted former student, who spent time painting on the Island with Benton, would turn away from him in dramatic fashion.
Wolff, a Professor of Art History at the University of Maine, will give insights into Benton’s art, philosophy, and family history. He will explain how, even as the nation learned his name, Benton was still scorned by critics, and how this foreshadowed many of the artistic debates that would dominate the coming decades.
Justin Wolff will speak on Tuesday, June 5th in the Museum Library beginning at 5:30pm. Admission is $8 for members, and $12 for non-members. Books will be available for purchase and signing following the talk.
Justin Wolff received a Ph.D. from Princeton University, where he studied American art and culture. He has taught at Roanoke College and in the Expository Writing Program at Harvard University. He comes from a family of writers: his father, Geoffrey Wolff, and his uncle, Tobias Wolff, are acclaimed authors of fiction and nonfiction. He lives in Bangor, Maine.