Thomas Hart Benton, Cut the Line (1944) (Image courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Naval History and Heritage Command, Washington, D.C.)
The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Naval Station Norfolk with an exhibition of works by the American Regionalist artist Thomas Hart Benton, who was stationed at the base at the end of the First World War and referred to this time “as a turning point in his development as an artist”, says the Chrysler’s curator of exhibitions, Seth Feman. “Before [the First World War], he had been experimenting in abstract styles largely by looking to the latest works coming from Europe,” Feman says. “While making sketches as a draftsman in the Navy, Benton committed himself to American subjects and began developing his unique representational style.”
The show, Thomas Hart Benton and the Navy (until 24 September), features works in the Navy Art Collection that Benton made during the Second World War, when he was an artist-correspondent in the US Navy, including oil paintings, watercolours and pen and ink drawings. The two groups show scenes from inside the USS Dorado submarine (which was later downed off Panama in October 1943), and the journey of a Landing Ship, Tank and its crew, from construction in Pittsburg to deployment from New Orleans. Some works are packed with muscular action, while others depict lively, playful scenes, such as a pre-deployment evening at a New Orleans bar, or quieter moments like enjoying a cup of coffee. “Benton’s patriotic works show an array of everyday people—African American crewmen, women shipbuilders, and civilians including kids and the elderly—all coming together in support of U.S. victory,” Feman says.