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.

Cataloguing data may change with further research.

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Thomas Hart Benton, American, 1889–1975
Tempera with oil glaze on linen, on wood panel
24 × 30 in. (61 × 76.2 cm)
Credit Line

Gift of Frank J. Hevrdejs

Current Location
The Audrey Jones Beck Building
Accession Number

Research ongoing