Thomas Hart Benton, Achelous and Hercules, 1947, tempera and oil on canvas, 62 7/8 x 264 1/8 in., Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Allied Stores Corporation, and museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program
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Explore our vibrant 22-foot-long mural Achelous and Hercules using the Zoomify tool! The controls under the image allow you to zoom in (+) and out (-). Use the arrows or your mouse to move around this enormous landscape. How many symbols of fertility can you find?
Thomas Hart Benton painted this undulating scene in 1947, when America was riding a wave of postwar optimism. Of course, it is no coincidence that rivers are central to Benton's narrative! In mythology, the hero Hercules tamed the river god Achelous, who became an enraged bull during flood season. In restraining the bull, Hercules preserved the fertile river valleys and their crops.
In this mural, Benton conjures the nation's strength and energy in muscular male figures and in the surging movement of the composition. His bold colors and agricultural subject reflect the sense of abundance and opportunity that characterized postwar society. Can you identify another symbol of river taming in this painting? (Hint—it's a form of transportation.)
Learn more about Achelous and Hercules in our multimedia Director's Choice tour.