NMAA Director's Choice

Benton's Wheat

Benton's painting, Wheat Twenty years later, in 1966, Benton suffered a serious heart attack. As he began to recover, he painted Wheat. An endless army of heavy-headed wheat stalks marches back into infinity. This is Benton's emblem for the democratic masses of America, rather like Walt Whitman's use of "leaves of grass."

The first two rows have been harvested, but green shoots signal a new generation coming. One stalk is broken but not yet harvested; this may be Benton himself in the year after his heart attack.

It's interesting to me to see how Benton's desire to "picture America" reached a kind of noisy crescendo in the big public commission Achelous and Hercules. But a brush with death concentrated his mind without changing his plan. In a strange way the underlying purpose of these two pictures is the same: to celebrate nation and nature by linking them inextricably together.



Pictured: Thomas Hart Benton, Wheat,1967, oil, 20 x 21 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James A. Mitchell and museum purchase.


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Discussion:
Achelous and Hercules
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