Missouri painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) knew both ups and downs. In the 1930s he was America's most celebrated and notorious artist; at the same time he was scorned by critics who found his art too regressive and his politics too nationalistic.
Benton biographer Justin Wolff examines Benton's world and art in Thomas Hart Benton: A Life on Thursday, April 12, 2012, at 6:30 p.m. at the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Born in Missouri at the end of the 19th century, Benton was the first artist to make the cover of Time. This true original was heir to both the rollicking populism of his father's political family and the quiet life of his Appalachian grandfather.
In his twenties he found his calling in New York, where he was drawn to memories of his small-town youth - and to visions of the American scene.
By the mid-1930s Benton's heroic murals were featured in galleries, statehouses, public buildings, and museums. Magazines commissioned him to report on the stories of the day.
Yet even as the nation learned his name, he was often scorned by critics and political commentators. As a leader of the Regionalist art movement dedicated to representational art, Benton was viewed by some as old-fashioned, even sentimental. Even Jackson Pollock, his once-devoted former student, would turn away from him.
A former boxer, Benton was quick to fight back. His battles foreshadowed many of the artistic debates that would dominate the coming decades.
Benton was a resident of Kansas City from 1939 until his death in 1975. His home at 3616 Belleview is now a state historic site.
Justin Wolff is an assistant professor of Art History at the University of Maine. He is the author of Richard Caton Woodville: American Painter, Artful Dodger.
Admission is free. The event will be preceded by a 6 p.m. reception. RSVP online  or call 816.701.3407. Free parking is available at the Library District Parking Garage at 10th & Baltimore.
Major funding for programs at the Kansas City Public Library is provided by a generous grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.