Lot 33

Thomas Hart Benton "Study for Achelous and Hercules" Graphite (1947)

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Thomas Hart Benton

(Missouri, 1889-1975)

Compositional Study for the Mural of Achelous and Hercules, 1947

Graphite on paper

12" x 23"


Benton scholar Dr. Henry Adams: "This is an early study for Benton’s mural of Achelous and Hercules [Baigell 127] of 1947, for Harzfeld's Department Store [currently displayed and in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum]. It was the first mural project that Benton had received in a decade since the controversy over his Missouri mural had made clients nervous about commissioning work from him. While Benton’s patron, Lester Siegel, gave Benton the freedom to choose his own subject matter, the project came with some strings attached. 'I’m not going to start interfering with what you paint for my store,' Siegel told him, 'but for God’s sake, try to let me stay in business.'


"Benton chose to represent Hercules wrestling with the bull Achelous and breaking off its horn, which became a cornucopia. He derived this subject from Bulfinch’s Mythology, a book he had loved as a child. According to Bulfinch’s explanation, the unruly bull in the Greek myth symbolized a river, which provided irrigation but often overflowed in dangerous floods. Benton felt the myth applied well to Kansas City, whose prosperity derived from the flood-prone Missouri River.


"At the bottom, Benton sketched the main motif—Hercules wrestling with a bull. At the top, he made a sketch roughly indicating the undulating form of the entire design, although at this point much of the conception was still unresolved. In the center of this upper sketch is the bull motif, and on the right a group of figures seated on a cornucopia, approximately as they appear in the final mural. On the left, the placement of figures is not yet clearly formed in his mind."


Signed in the bottom right of the top image. Matted to 24" x 30".


Scattered sepia drips and smudging across the sheet, both issues presumably occurring as the artist worked on the drawings and later studies. The top of the sheet is torn several inches above the image, not visible in the mat window.

Overall Dimensions
Height: 24.00 in
Width: 30.00 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.