Lot 17
  • 17

Thomas Hart Benton 1889 - 1975

250,000 - 350,000 USD
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  • Thomas Hart Benton
  • Rice Threshing
  • signed Benton and dated 44 (lower right)
  • oil on board
  • 9 3/4 by 13 inches
  • (24.9 by 33.1 cm)


James Graham & Sons, New York (acquired from the artist)
Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, New York, December 1, 1988, lot 231, illustrated)
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


New York, James Graham & Sons, Thomas Hart Benton, November-December 1968, no. 16


Very good condition; under UV: a few scattered pin-sized dots of inpainting in the sky.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

In the 1930s, Thomas Hart Benton rose to prominence as a painter of daily life in rural America.  Born in Neosho, Missouri, Benton developed a strong sense of nationalism at an early age given the politicized environment in which he grew up.  His great-uncle was Missouri's first Senator and his father was a congressional representative who often invited other public figures to their home. Such exposure gave Benton an interest in the American scene that developed into a lifelong theme in his artistic career.  Benton's extensive travels, combined with his family's prominence, made him as much a historian as an artist, and as much a nationalist as a regionalist.

Enchanted by the country and its offerings, Benton began traveling through the South and the Midwest in the late 1920s, eventually finding himself in Louisiana and the river towns along the Mississippi. While there, he sketched several scenes depicting agricultural work and harvesting in the rice fields, producing a large-scale painting Louisiana Rice Fields (Brooklyn Museum, New York). Benton revisited the theme years later when he returned to New Orleans in 1944 on an assignment making sketches of war ships. Painted in 1944, Rice Threshing depicts a group of hard-working field laborers using traditional tools and machines to separate grains from the plants. The flowing contours of the land echo the clouds, creating a rhythm and harmony within the composition.

In celebrating the American way of life, Benton was sympathetic in his portrayal of farmers and field workers, favoring the themes of dedication and hard work. Benton infused pictures of everyday life with emotion and significance. As Matthew Baigell writes, "In his easel paintings completed since the war, Benton has explored older themes and styles, but even the casual observer will notice changes. The energies that he formerly channeled into defining an American style and spirit have been directed toward a profound appreciation of his subject matter. Some of his best portraits have been painted in these last years....In many ways, though, his more remarkable achievements are the landscapes of this period. In these it would appear that Benton's overwhelming love for America found its true outlet in the streams, hill and mountains of the country, populated by people unsuspectingly living out their time, quietly enjoying themselves, living easily on the land, celebrating nothing more than their existence" (Thomas Hart Benton, 1973, p. 183).

On the back of a black and white photograph that accompanies the present lot, Benton writes, "This picture is a preliminary study for a large picture which is owned by the National City Bank of New York City. The large picture is not exactly the same but fairly close to this one. The 'idea' is in this picture. Rice, like wheat, is now largely combined so this picture has a certain historic value. I doubt if you could see an operation like this anymore. In any case there would be a few of them."