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Indomitable Spirit: Thomas Hart Benton

June 1, 2020

3 minute read

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Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton, The Twist, 1964, 20 X 28”, oil on canvas framed by Lowy in a mid-20th century distressed gilt fluted cove frame


Thomas Hart Benton, an American artist, was 75 when he painted this fabulous iconic artwork. A regionalist artist for most of his career, he loved to observe and paint ordinary people going about their lives in America. He liked to say that he painted common art for the common man, but as an avid reader who had studied in Europe and was the son of a prominent congressman, he was far from common. Benton was a huge artistic success by the 1930’s and was the first artist to have a work featured on the cover of Time magazine. But after World War II, abstract expressionism had replaced Regionalism in popularity and Benton was largely forgotten, replaced in popularity by his star pupil in American art, Jackson Pollock.

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Tom Benton loved music and loved to entertain in his Kansas City, Missouri home; he often hosted Saturday night musical gatherings where he played the harmonica, his wife Rita played the guitar, and his son TP played the flute. In fact, in 1942, Decca released a record of folk music called Saturday Night at Tom Benton’s. TP, often depicted in his father’s paintings, would go on to become an accomplished musician.

But by 1964, Pop music had burst onto the scene. Looking at Benton’s painting of The Twist, we arguably get a feeling of bewildered curiosity. Yet he seems to get this new style of music and powerfully conveys the rhythm of the scene. Our first observation viewing the painting today may be to notice the lack of social distancing, but we are also struck by the energy Benton captures in the scene and then we begin to hear the music. Come on, baby let’s do the twist.


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Musical gathering at the Kansas City home of Thomas Hart Benton ca 1940; Benton is seated on the floor, his son TP is playing flute next to his mother, Rita


A collector recently brought The Twist to Lowy framed in a brightly finished white gold reproduction frame. They were looking for a more appropriate mid-20th century period frame and fortuitously, Lowy found a frame in the Lowy frame collection which is believed to have been made by Benton’s wife Rita. She managed Benton’s business affairs and was said to have also made frames for her husband. This frame worked aesthetically with the painting and fit perfectly with an added liner. We are very pleased to have united it with this seminal example of Benton’s work. The frame is simple, unassuming, and somewhat rustic with a gilt finish that is soft and complements the lighting of the scene without distracting. The gentle cove shape of the molding draws the viewer into the room.