Lot 7
  • 7

Thomas Hart Benton 1889 - 1975

200,000 - 400,000 USD
545,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • Thomas Hart Benton
  • Still Life with Spring Flowers
  • signed Benton and dated '49 (lower left)
  • oil and tempera on board
  • 29 x 20  1/4  inches


William T. Kemper Charitable Trust, Kansas City, Missouri (sold: Christie's New York, December 1, 1989, lot 245, illustrated)
Acquired by the present owner from the above sale


"IFAR [The International Foundation for Art Research] Verifies New Benton Still Life," IFARreports and The Art Loss Register, vol. 16, no. 1, January 1995, p. 4, illustrated fig. 2

Catalogue Note

Thomas Hart Benton’s Still Life with Spring Flowers is a striking example of the artist’s distinctive aesthetic. Painted in 1949, the work dates to a transitional moment in Benton’s career. Benton was known for the evocative manner in which he painted unflinchingly honest and often satirical images of American society. With the threat of the Second World War impending at the close of the 1930s, however, the character of Benton’s work evolved. He remained thoroughly committed to a realist aesthetic, yet he began to paint subjects that interested him, regardless of their nationalistic undertones or connotations. 

Still-life was one of the genres Benton explored with renewed fervor in this period. Still Life with Spring Flowers, painted in a palette of cool blue tones highlighted with passages of fiery red, yellow and orange, displays the sculptural presence and clear sense of vitality that characterize the best of Benton’s paintings. It also shows the new direction the artist’s work took as the imagery Benton uses reveals a variety of European art historical references. The vase of tulips immediately connotes the work of the 17th Century Dutch masters, speaking to his emerging interest in this genre, while the plate, apple and knife express the artist’s long admiration for the work of Paul Cézanne.

Benton’s interest in Cézanne dates to the earliest years of his career, sparked by the acquaintances he made while living in Paris beginning in 1908. Among these influential figures was his fellow American painter Stanton Macdonald-Wright, whose veneration of Cézanne centered predominantly around the visionary painter’s application of warm and cool colors to indicate the advance and recession of space on a two-dimensional surface. Macdonald-Wright, whose ideas on color theory would soon become articulated in the movement known as “Synchromism,” encouraged Benton to similarly immerse himself in Cézanne’s vision of the world, even taking him to the Parc Monceau mansion of a Russian diplomat reputed to own the best collection of the French master’s work in order to study his renowned technique at close hand.

While the imagery of Still Life with Spring Flowers speaks to a diverse range of influences, the style with which it is rendered is classically “Bentonesque.” The work is remarkable for the array of objects and textures the artist depicts. He captures the velvety petals of the tulip blossoms, the beveled surface of the silver dish, and the crisp skin of the apple so that each object possesses its own sense of energy. The leaves of the flowers and the folds of the tablecloth writhe on the two-dimensional picture plane with a sense of active rhythm, ultimately creating a surface that delights the eye and shows the artist's uniquely modern interpretation of this centuries-old subject.