Lot 11

Thomas Hart Benton "Study for Jesse James Scene" Graphite (1936)

Estimate: $1,500 - $2,500
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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


Study for Figure on Horseback, Jesse James, Missouri Mural, 1936 

Graphite on paper

14 1/2" x 10 1/4"


Benton scholar Dr. Henry Adams: "Over the three doorways of the House Lounge, where [the Missouri State Capitol mural] was painted, Benton placed scenes he called “Missouri Mythology” showing legendary figures of Missouri history: Huckleberry Finn, Frankie and Johnnie, and Jesse James. Benton noted of his Jesse James panel [Baigell 97] that “the picture shows actions that occurred at different times,” although the general imagery followed that of the song:


Jesse and his brother Frank robbed the Chicago bank,

They held up the Danville train.

He robbed from the rich and he gave to the poor

He’d a hand and a heart and a brain.


"This drawing portrays a figure on horseback in the background of the panel of Jesse James. As a model for the figure of Jesse James, Benton chose his young friend Dan James, the great-nephew of the bandit, who was a Hollywood screenwriter who worked with Charlie Chaplin. James later recalled:


"I posed for Tom for the Jefferson City mural as Jesse James. As far as I know I’m at least a foot taller than Jesse. He got me up in blue jeans and an old pair of boots and he stuck me in one of his damn baroque positions where I had to stand forever with my knees bent holding this giant Colt revolver. I thought it came out recognizably. I’m charmed to be entombed down there in Jefferson City.”


"Benton later repeated the composition of the Jesse James panel in one of his largest and best known lithographs. Such Missouri outlaws occupied a sweet spot in Benton’s imagination, since his father, when he served as District Attorney, had prosecuted the Bald Knobbers, the last of the Missouri outlaw gangs. As Benton wrote: 'When I began to take notice of things, my father had just finished the prosecution of the 'Bald Knobbers,' a gang of Ozark feudists who had not learned to differentiate between law and personal will. I remember very well when we kept the shutters of our house closed at night for fear some disgruntled Knobber or one of his relatives might take a potshot at the old man.'"


Signed below the figure. Housed in a glazed frame measuring 25" x 20".


Good to fair condition, noting several horizontal creases across the sheet. The top right corner is bleached a lighter shade than the rest of the sheet.

Overall Dimensions
Height: 25.00 in
Width: 20.00 in
Depth: 1.25 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.