Henry Look Unhitching

Creation date
oil on canvas
22-1/2 x 26-7/8 in. 32 x 37 in. (framed)
Credit line
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cantor
Accession number
Currently On View

A barrel, a plow, and a cart indicate farm work. They guide the spectator’s gaze on a zigzag through the composition.

The rhythmic, curving lines of the composition suggest the vitality of nature and are characteristic of Benton’s work.

Benton was the leader of the Regionalist artists, who favored images of America, especially the rural Midwest. Members of this movement depicted scenes of daily life, in conscious contrast to the more abstract work of their Modernist contemporaries.

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cantor; given to the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1960.
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Thomas Hart Benton: Painter of America’s Heartland

Thomas Hart Benton was born in Missouri and attended the Art Institute of Chicago, before studying at the Acadèmie Julian in Paris. While in Paris, he was influenced by the Synchronist school of painting, which took an abstract approach to color to express emotion and mood. Benton eventually rejected modernism in the early 1920s and adopted a style that was called Regionalism. His approach contained familiar scenes and characters from small-town life in Middle America. Benton’s technique consists of undulating, rhythmic lines and vibrant colors. He painted numerous murals of American life; one of his most important mural commissions is the Social History of Indiana at Indiana University. Benton’s goal was to produce a uniquely American art that focused on the Heartland. In addition to painting, Benton taught at the Art Students League in New York, where Jackson Pollock was one of his students. In 1935, Benton became the director of the Kansas City Art Institute and School of Design.

In Henry Look Unhitching, the fertile earth and cloud filled sky are drawn with rhythmic curving lines that suggest the vitality of the forces of nature. The dynamism of the landscape, however, is subdued by the reverie of the stooped farmer, who unhitches his horse after a day’s work.

Dennis, James M. Renegade Regionalists: The Modern Independence of Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Foster, Kathleen A., Nanette E. Brewer, and Margaret Contempasis. Thomas Hart Benton and the Indiana Murals. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001.