Old Photos: Thomas Hart Benton’s History of Missouri
Previously: Thomas Hart Benton Paints the Persephone.
In 1935 the Missouri legislature commissioned Thomas Hart Benton to paint a mural history of the State on the walls of the lounge in the State House in Jefferson City. It chose Tom Benton because he is Missouri’s ablest painter and comes from one of Missouri’s most distinguished families. The legislature, however, never expected to get anything like the Benton History of Missouri which was completed just before this year’s session began in January. No pretty glorification, the murals turned out to be a raw and animated review of Missouri’s past and present. They gave full space to Missouri’s first settlers, its first railroad, its agriculture and industry, its great Champ Clark. But they also gave space to a slave auction, a lynching, Jesse James of Clay County, Frankie and Johnny of St.Louis. Loud were complaints that Benton was vulgar, that he had distorted Missouri into a “houn’ dog State”. But Benton Supporters pointed out that Missouri was, after all , a “houn’ dog State” whose natives did call each other “pukes.” As the fuss subsided, Missourians began to look at the murals more calmly. Though they admitted that the pictures were interesting, they still felt that it wasn’t a fitting way for a son of Missouri to tell the story of his native State.
About the murals.