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Arts of North America

Art created in North America includes objects made by native cultures of the present-day United States and Canada; paintings and decorative arts produced during colonial times; 18th- and 19th-century masterpieces; and the work of contemporary artists and photographers.

American, 1889 - 1975
Tempera with oil glaze on linen, on wood panel

24 x 30 inches

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Gift of Frank J. Hevrdejs

Arts of North America

In Haystack, the rhythmic swirls of paint and lyrical movement of the workers make farm life appear pastoral. The theme—man working in harmony with nature, and the landscape as a source of bounty and sustenance—presents an ideal view of the hardships that farmers endured during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Referred to as a Regionalist, Thomas Hart Benton believed that the subjects of American artists should come from the nation’s heartland. After initially absorbing the lessons of Modernism and embracing an abstract, vivid style, Benton turned in the 1920s to developing what he considered an “authentic American art,” an art that was socially responsible and never aesthetically hermetic.

A solid technician in the studio, Benton pioneered a painterly technique of applying pigment with egg yolk and water, and then overlaying the surface with transparent glazes. The rich tones and sensuous surfaces of his paintings are the result of this technique and of his heavily managed brushwork, in which he picked details out of the wet surface of the paint. In Haystack, the spiraling motion implicit in the hay coiled on the central pole is echoed throughout the painting, where content and artistic process meld seamlessly as Benton weaves together sky, earth, and farmer into one holistic vision of rural life in Missouri.