Thomas Hart Benton, “Tetons Study for The Sheepherder” Oil & Gouache (1955-1960)
In 1973, Thomas Hart Benton was commissioned to paint a mural for Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame. He had nearly completed it when he died in January 1975. Given the fact that Benton was 85 when he took on the assignment, a clause in the contract stipulated that should anything happen, the deal could be cancelled. Rita Benton, his widow, decided to enlist the help of Vincent Campanella, a fellow artist and friend of the Bentons, to add the finishing touches that were needed to satisfy the client.
Although Campanella had received various awards and a certain amount of recognition for his painting, he never achieved the commercial success he desired. He moved to Kansas City in 1949 to teach at the Kansas City Art Institute, where he first encountered Benton. Three years later, he moved on to teach at Park College (now Park University). After his death in 2001, family members were clearing out his living quarters and were surprised to discover a group of works by Benton. It is assumed that Campanella may have acquired some of the works in the 1970s, either as gifts from Tom or perhaps from Rita in gratitude for his help in finishing the mural. They were subsequently sold to collectors, who have now consigned them to Circle Auction.
The collection of 113 items, estimated to bring between $245,000-$430,000, consists of drawings, watercolors and paintings revealing a variety of stylistic approaches and subject matter Henry Adams, an expert on the artist, spent several weeks in 2007 cataloguing and researching the collection. “This collection of works by Thomas Hart Benton, assembled by Vincent Campanella, is the single largest collection of Benton drawings and studies outside of the Benton Trust . . .” Adams said. “No other body of Benton’s work, in a single place, provides such a varied record of his changes of subject matter and style.”
While those familiar with Benton’s oeuvre will recognize the familiar themes of farming and rural landscapes, there are also figure studies, circus scenes and sketches for more major works of art. The group really provides a blueprint for Benton’s working process and how he tackled his subject matter. Spanning the entirety of his career, they document his stylistic evolution as well.
While online bidding has already begun, the auction is slated to take place Dec. 2, 2023. Bidding will begin at half the low estimate unless prior online bidding has exceeded that amount. The public is invited to preview the collection in person at Circle Auction, 901 Woodswether Rd., Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. A catalogue will be available sometime prior to the auction.
In 2007, Adams wrote an extensive essay on Campanella, which is currently posted on the Circle Auction website. “As has been noted, what is most notable about these works, viewed as a group, is their variety, in style, in subject matter and in date,” Adams assessed. “Not strictly a connoisseur’s collection, since the works vary greatly in finish and even in quality, it reveals instead an artist’s interest in Benton’s working methods, and in the nature of his artistic development. It provides an extraordinary picture of Benton’s development, as well as a record of one of his most intriguing friendships.”