Lot 45

Thomas Hart Benton "New York Today (Study for NY Mural)" Graphite (1927)

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Thomas Hart Benton

(Missouri, 1889-1975)

New York Today (Study for The History of New York Mural), 1927

Graphite on paper

10 3/4" x 8"


Benton scholar Dr. Henry Adams told the story of this image: "In 1927, Benton made designs of The History of New York to fit four unfilled lunettes on the third floor of the New York Public Library—a space that had been designed for mural paintings but had never been filled. In February of 1927, he exhibited his four panels, each 70 by 36 inches in size, to considerable fanfare at the New Gallery at 600 Madison Avenue.  Articles in praise of the paintings were published by Benton’s friends, the artist Boardman Robinson, and the writers Lewis Mumford and Thomas Craven. Despite the press attention, however, Benton did not receive a commission, and the panels remained unsold during his lifetime. They are now in a private collection.


"Most mural painting of the period featured heroic or allegorical figures and was somewhat flat in effect, following a mode popularized by the French painter Puvis de Chavannes. By contrast, Benton’s idea was to be modern both in subject matter and style: to portray a modern type of social history in a visual language influenced by Cubism.


"The most notable panel of Benton’s New York series was a construction scene titled Modern New York--one of the first murals with contemporary working-class subject matter to be painted in America. This is an early sketch for this panel. While some of the elements, such as the truck on a ramp in the background, reappear in the finished painting, Benton significantly reworked nearly every element of the design before he arrived at his final composition."


A notation along the right edge reads: “Hist of NY. Didn’t use.” Matted to 20" x 16".


Two short scrapes to the sheet inside the left edge of the arch, one of which has resulted in a small hole. Creasing across the bottom edge and in the top right corner.

Overall Dimensions
Height: 20.00 in
Width: 16.00 in
Depth: 0.50 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.