Lot 22

Thomas Hart Benton "Character Study of an Old Woman" Oil (1926)

Estimate: $30,000 - $60,000

Bid Increments

Price Bid Increment
$0 $25
$500 $50
$1,000 $100
$5,000 $250
$10,000 $500
$20,000 $1,000
$50,000 $2,500
$75,000 $5,000
$100,000 $10,000

Thomas Hart Benton

(Missouri, 1889-1975)

Character Study of an Old Woman, 1926

Oil on canvas

24" x 19"


This work was reviewed by Dr. Henry Adams, committee member Thomas Hart Benton Catalogue Raisonné Foundation, who offered generous commentary: "In the early 1920s, Benton began to make character studies of his neighbors on Martha’s Vineyard. The series marks the beginning of Benton’s attempt to capture the character of the American people, something that would occupy him for the remainder of his life. Among those who recognized the significance of Benton’s achievement was the critic Lewis Mumford, who declared: 'He draws people out of their soil, like potatoes, with the earth still clinging to them.'


"The earliest of these seems to have been a moving 1921 portrait of a local deaf mute farmer and his wife, George and Sabrina West, now in the Whitney Museum of American Art. The title of the painting, The Lord Is My Shepherd, derives from a sampler he observed on the wall behind the couple. Notably, the first three letters of 'shepherd' are invisible, so that what we see reads merely 'The Lord is herd,' a play on words suggesting the couple’s closeness to the Lord, despite their deafness and their poverty. Many of Benton’s subsequent Vineyard portraits portray less saintly figures, including Billy Benson, who once tried to poison his parents, and an indigent lady with only one front tooth named Frankie, who lived mostly on peanut butter and spent most of her time on Ella Brug’s front porch, thumbing through old magazines.


"This lively character study of an old woman from the Campanella collection clearly belongs to this series, although the identity of the sitter is not recorded. For a comparable work see New England Postmaster [now hanging in the Arkell Museum in Canajoharie, NY], reproduced in Mathew Baigell’s monograph on Benton, figure 49."


Signed and dated to the bottom right. Housed in a frame measuring 34 1/2" x 29 1/2".


There is a fine network of craquelure across the paint layer. Original canvas (not re-lined) and original stretcher (several stretcher keys replaced). Stretcher bar marks visible. Ridge lightly impressed in the paint layer, angled to the right of the figure's head. Evidence of significant restoration, including selective semi-transparent surface coating over much of the background and over highlights on the figure. In-painting along the figure's eyebrow and in the shadow behind the figure's back.

Overall Dimensions
Height: 34.50 in
Width: 29.50 in
Depth: 2.00 in

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Acquired by Vincent and Leah Campanella directly from Thomas and Rita Benton over the course of their 25 year friendship. A portion of the collection was given to the Campanellas by Rita in 1975 as compensation for Vincent completing "The Sources of Country Music," the mural left unfinished when Tom passed away in 1975. Vincent Campanella was later prominently featured in the Ken Burns documentary Thomas Hart Benton (1988). In 2001, the Campanella family sold the collection to the current owner, a private Kansas City collector.

Benton scholar and author, Dr. Henry Adams, has authenticated the entire collection in person. You can find his essay documenting the 25 year tumultuous friendship of Vincent and Thomas and the origins of the collection at Circle-Auction.com. A copy of his essay will be provided to all winning bidders.