Maps and images of midwestern floods and flood control programs in the United States from 1927 to 1993
Additional Print Resources:
Fairbrother, Trevor, and Potts, Kathryn. In and Out of Place: Contemporary Art and the American Social Landscape. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1993.
Hughes, Robert. American Visions: The Epic History of Art in America. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Menkes, Diana, ed. Of Time and Place: American Figurative Art from the Corcoran Gallery. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1985.
Wilmerding, John. American Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1980.
Two sharecroppers struggle to load their meager belongings - mattress, cast-iron stove and blanket - into a mule wagon before rising floodwater reaches their small home. A darkening sky and lightening add a sense of urgency to their actions. Deep furrows in the mud and high water in the background suggest escape will be difficult.
Benton used compositional elements, such as color, line and shape, to increase the drama of his painting. He squeezes the activity of the scene between two wooden structures - the white house on the left and red barn on the right. He crops our view of these buildings, as a photographer does when zooming in on the action. This helps narrow our focus on the rectangular wagon, which repeats the shape and texture of the buildings. Benton also uses color to direct our attention to the wagon. The yellow of the man's shirt and the orange blanket catch our eye and encourage us to take inventory of the items being loaded. The artist also repeats round objects, such as the white jug, wagon wheels, metal tub and horses' bodies, to move our eye from the foreground to the middle ground of the painting. Diagonal lines in the mud and streaks of lightening suggest action and heighten anticipation about the outcome of this story. This drama is accentuated by the contrast of dark clouds on the left and a clear sky on the right.
Does this painting document a real occurrence?
This painting is based on drawings Thomas Hart Benton made on travels in the Midwest during the Great Flood of 1937. He was hired by the Kansas City Star newspaper to document this natural disaster, which ravaged much of the Ohio River Valley. He traveled through Missouri making sketches of the flood's effect on the land and its residents. He wrote, "the roads of the flood country were full of moversâ€¦Every once in a while seepage from under the levee would force the evacuation of a house and you would see a great struggle to get animals and goods out of the rising water."
What is Thomas Hart Benton's background?
Thomas Hart Benton was born in Missouri and went to art school in New York. Rejecting the abstract style popular in modern Europe and America, he chose to paint in a more illustrative manner. He is part of an art movement called American regionalism, characterized by images of everyday subjects that celebrate the virtues and struggles of rural America.