Kansas State University


Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art

Thomas Hart Benton: The Perils of War

Art for Every Home Speaker Series presentation on Oct 29 at 5:30pm

Thomas Hart Benton, The Sowers , from the series The Year of Peril, 1941–42

Joan Stack, State Historical Society of Missouri curator, will present “Thomas Hart Benton: The Perils of War” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 in the second installment of the Art for Every Home: Associated American Artists speaker series. AAA artist Thomas Hart Benton began a series of eight paintings known collectively as “The Year of Peril” immediately after the December 1941 Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, compelled to express on canvas this heightened threat to American democracy.

The artist created grotesque and ethnically stereotyped figures such as the allegorical Axis enemies planting the seeds of death in The Sowers (gallery entrance). Benton’s description of the painting was as strident as his imagery: “Are we to stand by and let them reap? These sowers of death … are right now marching over the curve of the earth straight toward us, leaving fires of destruction in every furrow of the lands they traverse.”

Benton, who lived in Kansas City, intended to hang the Year of Peril paintings in the Kansas City Union Station, but Reeves Lewenthal convinced the artist that the series deserved broader attention. The AAA director arranged for Abbott Laboratories, the Chicago pharmaceutical company, to purchase the works and underwrite an illustrated brochure as well as individ­ual color reproductions, including the nearby poster, Again. According to Benton, over fifty-eight mil­lion reproductions were distributed. In addition, over seventy-five thousand people visited AAA’s New York gallery to see an exhibition of the paintings in April 1942. The open­ing was filmed by Paramount Pictures and shown in movie theater newsreels. Within a few months, however, federal officials decided the Year of Peril pictures were unsuitably brutal, and distribution of the reproductions ceased.

Next Art for Every Home event: Kristina Wilson, Clark University professor of art history, will present “The American Home of the 1950s” on Thursday, Nov. 5 at 5:30pm.

Image: Thomas Hart Benton
(United States, 1889–1975)
The Sowers, from the series The Year of Peril, 1941–42
Tempera with oil glazes mounted on panel
The State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia Research Center and Gallery, 1944.0010

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