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THOMAS HART BENTON (1889-1975) with his wife, RITA
Self-portrait
Born in the Midwest, Benton received his formal training at the Art Institute of Chicago and, after 1909, at the Académie Julian in Paris. There he absorbed the theories of avant-garde painting, and upon his return to New York, he joined with the American Synchromists, a group of artists concerned with the explication of form through color. Benton's own distinctive style emerged only after he became a draftsman in the navy in 1919. His accurate drawings of naval yard activities and his growing interest in American history and culture led him to advocate and make naturalistic paintings of American subjects. During the 1930s, his landscapes and genre scenes made him America's foremost regionalist painter.

This double portrait, painted the year the artist and his wife, Rita Piacenza Benton, were married, depicts the couple on South Beach, Martha's Vineyard. For Benton, Martha's Vineyard, where he spent many summers, was "that little Massachusetts island [that] freed me from its [painting's] illusions and opened my mind to receive the great American world beyond it." In the quiet of his summer house, Benton was able to break away from modernist abstraction and forge his own representational, sculpturally conceived style.
Oil on canvas, 1922
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack H. Mooney
NPG.75.30
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