Schoelkopf gallery announced Monday that it will exclusively represent the trust of Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton, with the aim of raising the artist’s profile internationally as a major influence in 20th century Modernism.
Schoelkopf, which recently moved to Tribeca, will kick off the representation at this week’s edition of Art Basel Miami Beach with six lavish Benton pictures executed between 1925 and 1973, two years before the artist passed away in his studio while working on a mural destined for the Country Music Hall of Fame.
“This is something we’ve wanted for 30 years,” Andrew Schoelkopf, the gallery’s founder, told ARTnews. “Everybody knows that he is one of America’s great storytellers. His narrative paintings have always attracted a huge following, but he’s been for so long cast in that Regionalist mold, like Grant Wood, but the truth is that Thomas Hart Benton also one of the Great American modernists who was totally immersed in the crucible of the development of abstraction and modernism between 1910 and 1920 in both New York and Paris. That part of his story is much less well known.”
Like Edward Hopper, Benton’s pictures seem like the could be stills from an early 20th century film. So many of his canvases show an America still wild, unkempt, and unspoiled by todays ubiquitous modern conveniences.
Also like Hopper, Benton went to Paris in the 1910s and became enthralled with the modernist abstract school born out of Cezanne’s work only to—again, like Hopper, who was seven-years older than Benton— eschew the style for the figurative work that made him famous. According to the New York Times, Benton said modern art was “good for nothing but to release neurotic tensions” in an autobiography published in 1951.
Thomas Hart Benton, Chilmark Landscape (1920)
The works on view at Schoelkopf’s booth are a hint at what the gallery has in mind for future programming. In 2024, the gallery will host an exhibition of works Benton made during his travels through the American West. While that series is less well known than what Schoelkopf called Benton’s “Heartland in America paintings,” the artist’s travels through New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming, and Colorado produced some of his most cinematic works.
One such work, Wyoming Landscape (1967), will be among the works on view during Art Basel Miami Beach. The painting betrays it’s 10.5 x 19.5 inch dimensions with a golden warmth that embraces the principals a young Benton absorbed in Paris—evident in the color planes that constitute the vastness depicted in the landscape. The work shows that, while Benton pooh-poohed modern art, the principles of abstraction still had a place within his practice. In that same autobiograph,y Benton said that “contrary to popular belief, the “Regionalism” movement did not in any ways oppose abstract form. It simply wished to put meanings, recognizable American meanings into some of it.”
Through the Trust, the gallery will be able to bring a great many paintings and works on paper to the primary market. “There are paintings, mural studies, and some really quite interesting drawings,” Schoelkopf said. “It’s a very wide array and substantive body of work that remains, most of which hasn’t been seen in 35 or 40 years.”