Lot 25
  • 25

Thomas Hart Benton 1889 - 1975

Estimate
600,000 - 800,000 USD
Sold
2,434,500 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • Thomas Hart Benton
  • Little Brown Jug
  • signed Benton, l.r.
  • tempera on board

Provenance

Abbott Laboratories
Gift from the above, 1980 

Catalogue Note

In 1939, Glenn Miller, the well known jazz bandleader, arranger and composer, recorded "Little Brown Jug."  The 1869 tune, written by Joseph Winner, depicts the hard life of a couple plagued by alcoholism and was a popular drinking song.  The lyrics begin:

Me and my wife live alone,
In a little log hut we call our own.
She loves gin and I love rum,
And don't we have a lot of fun.

Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
Little brown jug, don't I love thee!
Ha, ha, ha, you and me,
Little brown jug, don't I love thee!...

While Miller's version lacked vocal accompaniment it retained the same upbeat and cheerful tone of the original and enjoyed immense popularity in the post-Prohibition era.  Thomas Hart Benton, a music enthusiast, painted his version of Little Brown Jug shortly after Miller's recording. Though Benton had had no formal musical training as a child, music became one his greatest passions later in life. In 1931, when someone gave his four-year-old son T.P. a two-bit harmonica, it was Benton who delighted in the instrument.  He picked it up and began to make noises on it, finding that its musical tones and scales were "like a revelation from heaven." Benton practiced tirelessly, teaching himself both to play the harmonica and ultimately to read music.  As a result, experimenting with and collaborating on different melodies became a family affair for the Bentons. Rita, the artist's wife, was an amateur guitarist and singer and his two children went on to become successful musicians: his son a professional flautist, and his daughter, Jessie, an accomplished folk singer.

Benton held regular Saturday night jam sessions at his house during the thirties, the group made up of friends and students from the Art Students League, including Jackson Pollock. Musical themes, songs and performances soon worked their way into his art.  Scenes incorporating musicians, dancing, and vignettes based on popular folk songs such as Frankie and Johnny (which appears in his murals at the Missouri State Capital), were frequent subjects. Benton's sculpturesque figures appear animated with movement and rhythm, as do the rowdy men in Little Brown Jug who throw up their arms in anticipation of sharing their jug of moonshine.

His great-uncle  had been Missouri's first senator, and his father a congressional representative, so Benton grew up inculcated with a strong sense of nationalism. Ideas and beliefs important to his father's constituents were popular topics of conversation, and as an adult Benton had little patience for the cosmopolitan views of New York City. Rather, Benton embraced rural America and Little Brown Jug exemplifies the type of scene he felt epitomized the country's heartland. He later stated "'I believe I have wanted, more than anything else, to make pictures, the imagery of which would carry unmistakably American meanings for Americans and for as many of them as possible'" (Thomas Hart Benton, 1973, p.87). Southern folk songs, and certainly jazz, were uniquely American, and works like Little Brown Jug reflect Benton's interest in the national cultural spirit of the United States.

 

PROPERTY FROM THE COLLECTION OF JAMES L. ALLEN

As a pioneer in the development of the management consulting profession, James L. Allen headed one of the industry's leading firms He also served on the boards of several major US companies, was generous with his time  to charitable and philanthropic activities and became a lover and collector of art.

Born in 1904 on a farm in Somerset, Kentucky, Mr. Allen graduated from Northwestern University in 1929 and began his career as a management consultant joining Edward G. Booz Surveys to complete time and motion studies for individual tasks. He quickly realized that management consulting should instead concentrate on improving relationships and efficiencies between entire departments and personnel. In the early 1930's he helped found what became Booz, Allen & Hamilton, one of the world's leading management consulting firms, described in a 1959 Time article as "the world's largest, most prestigious management consulting firm" having served three-fourths of the country's largest businesses, two-thirds of the federal government's departments and most types of nonprofit institutions. He chaired the firm's governing board from 1944 to 1970.

Mr. Allen was a long-time director of and member of the executive committee of S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc. (Johnson Wax); director and chairman of the executive committee of Abbott Laboratories; director of Jewel Companies, Inc.; and a member of the board of nine other companies. Upon his retirement from the Abbott Laboratories board he was given the Thomas Hart Benton painting "Little Brown Jug" in appreciation of his many years of service to Abbott and in recognition of his Kentucky roots. As a lover of art, his collection also included works by Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Childe Hassam, Marc Chagall, John Henry Twachtman, Eugene Boudin, Jean Dufy, and Marcel Dyf.

His charitable and philanthropic activities included election in 1960 as a trustee of his alma mater, Northwestern University, and in 1975 as a life trustee. On the Northwestern campus in Evanston, Illinois, the James L. Allen Center for the continuing education programs of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management honors his service to Northwestern. He also served on the boards of the Committee for Economic Development, Evanston Hospital Association, Johnson Foundation, North Shore Country Day School, and National Merit Scholarship Corporation, and as a member of the Stanford University Graduate School of Business Advisory Council.

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