The Regionalist Triumvirate:
Selected Lithographs by Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton
From the Doane Art Collection Curated by Erin Malia Cross, Assistant Professor of Art
Regionalism was an extremely broad art movement during the early 20th century that most often refers to a concentrated group of Midwestern artists who rejected the European influence of abstraction for a more relatable and realistic style. Regionalists championed the argarin landscape and small town life in America. Because the Regionalist time frame was within the 1930’s, these artists are often linked to the Great Depression due to the often contrasting but often optimistic and heroic compositions depicting the beauty, triumphs and piety within the struggling communities. Purely an American movement, it championed the spirit and folklore of the American voice and did not have an organized manifesto but coalesced organically through the often narrative and insightful compositions of the three men known as the “Regionalist Triumvirate.” Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry were not the only artistic voices of Regionalism but their strong sense of nationalism and rejection of modern styles helped dominate themselves as leaders in the movement. It was this same attitude and artistic conviction, however, that forced Regionalism out of favor by the end of WWII.
Born 1891, Anamosa, Iowa Died 1941, Iowa City Iowa
Best known for his painting, American Gothic, Grant Wood created highly complexed and idealized images of the Midwestern landscape and its people. At first glance, his images tend to lean towards a sense nostalgia or sentimental romanticism but there is also strong sense of dark humor and harmonious isolation expertly and gently composed throughout his work.
John Steuart Curry
Born 1987, Dunavent, Kansas Died 1946, Madison, Wisconsin
Charged with dynamic energy and earnestly driven pathos, John Steuart Curry’s narratives radiate an expressive authority. He boldly beckons the viewer to ask questions that teeter a fine line between spiritual and sinister. Curry’s often awkward accuracy of rendering caused issues with the critics of his day but his poignant visual stories have remained steadfastly relevant.
Thomas Hart Benton
Born 1889, Neosho, Missouri Died 1975, Kansas City, Missouri
Incredibly emotive through his use of exaggerated curvilinear forms and mark making, Thomas Hart Benton’s compositions contain a sense of musical quality showcasing his interest in visual sound within his narrative and rolling landscapes. Bold and outspoken, Benton’s work was often overshadowed by his strong ego that would eventually isolate him from the art world and artists within his own style.
Because the buying of art was too much of a luxury during the Great Depression, art dealers created the American Artists Association (AAA) and contacted artists to produce affordable art through the technique of printmaking. These prints were sold in magazines as mail order and department stores for 5.00 a print. The editions were large at 250 and the artists signed each one.
Printmaking is a form of art making technique that allows an artist’s work to be more accessible to the general public by allowing the artist to produce many “copies” from one image. Lithography is one form of printmaking. The artist uses a grease pencil and draws on a prepared limestone. The stone is chemically treated and the oily ink resists the wax when paper and stone go through a press resulting in an image transfering from stone to paper.