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The Collection of Jerry Moss

Evening Concert

Evening Concert
signed and dated 'Benton/'52-'63' (lower right); signed and dated again, titled and inscribed '"Evening Concert" David and Leopold Mannes (Father & Son)...Benton Sept '63 For T.P.'s happy birthday Dad.' (on the reverse)
oil and tempera on gessoed board
27 7⁄8 x 40 in. (70.9 x 101.4 cm.)
Painted circa 1952-1963
Thomas P. Benton (gift from the artist).
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 24 May 1990, lot 225.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
M. Baigell, Thomas Hart Benton, New York, 1973 (illustrated, pl. 173).
Further details
This work will be included in the forthcoming Thomas Hart Benton catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Thomas Hart Benton Catalogue Raisonné Foundation. Committee Members: Dr. Henry Adams, Jessie Benton, Anthony Benton Gude, Andrew Thompson and Michael Owen.

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Emily Kaplan
Emily Kaplan Senior Vice President, Senior Specialist, Co-Head of 20th Century Evening Sale

Lot Essay

Exemplified by his strikingly personal depiction of musicians performing at home rather than onstage in Evening Concert, Thomas Hart Benton was committed to depicting the quotidian activities of everyday people rather than romanticized heroes. Despite notably forming a close relationship with abstract painter Jackson Pollack, who studied under Benton at the Art Students League in New York, Benton himself sought to create work that remained realistic to the American experience. A folk music enthusiast, Benton repeatedly drew on vernacular songs, often using lyrics as titles for his paintings and depicting musicians playing traditional folk instruments. This grounding in classic American culture adds an undeniable sense of nostalgia to his paintings.
At the same time, Benton infuses modernity into the traditional subject matter, employing his distinct visual vocabulary of swirling outlines and play with perspective to add rhythm to the scene and elevate the everyday into a compelling composition of modern art. Indeed, Benton himself was clear: “Contrary to general belief, the ‘Regionalist’ movement did not in any way oppose abstract form. It simply wished to put meanings, recognizable American meanings, into some of it” (An American in Art: A Professional and Technical Autobiography, Lawrence, Kansas, 1969, p. 77).
As an artist who strived to portray the everyday American, Benton’s work frequently included his close friends and family, and Evening Concert is no exception. The present work depicts an intimate duet between David and Leopold Mannes, a father and son with whom Benton became friendly in the 1940s, as Leopold organized summer concerts on Martha’s Vineyard. Here, Benton shows the duo within the interior of Benton’s Kansas City home, with Leopold playing the piano, mirroring his father’s focused gaze on his sheet music of Mozart. Contrasting the shadowy room with bright touches of yellow and the deep mahogany instruments, Benton creates a sense of drama that underscores the theatricality of the scene. Both David and his son Leopold were acclaimed musicians, and each served as director of the Mannes College of Music in New York, which David and his wife Clara founded in 1916. Yet, the quirky armchair at the center of the room, and the sheets of music casually scattered on the floor, underscore the intimacy of this private concert at home.
A further testament to the personal significance this work held for the artist, Benton dedicated the work to his son, Thomas P. “T.P.” Benton as a birthday gift. T.P. was an accomplished concert flutist and performed in the summer concerts organized by Mannes, while Benton’s daughter Jessie was an avid guitarist. A self-taught musician, the elder Benton played the harmonica and even developed a musical notation system for the instrument that is still used today.
Given its prominence in the Benton family’s daily life, music is unsurprisingly a central motif in Benton’s oeuvre. His 1934 work The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley (Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence) illustrates his ability to capture both the aural and visual realms in his work; the swirling landscape seems to evoke the rising and falling musical notes coming from the band of musicians in the foreground. Benton based the likeness of the harmonica player at left on his student Jackson Pollock. In fact, studying with Benton in the early 1930s, Pollock deeply admired his mentor, writing: “Benton is beginning to be recognized as the foremost American painter today. He has lifted art from the stuffy studio into the world and happenings about him, which has a common meaning to the masses.” (as quoted in E. Doss, Benton, Pollock, and the Politics of Modernism: From Regionalism to Abstract Expressionism, Chicago, Illinois, 1991, p. 323)
Other musical works by Benton include his final commission, the 1975 mural for Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame. For the mural Benton sketched several musicians, writing “sometimes what people do for a long time in their life—their occupations—shows in their faces. Or is suggested. That might be true in a musician… I just have to see the face.” (as quoted in H. Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: Drawing from Life, exh. cat., New York, 1990, p. 191) Indeed, this sentiment is reflected in his careful rendering of David and Leopold Mannes. Whether painting a lively dance scene or a private concert, Benton’s dedication to dutifully capturing the particular character of each subject is clear.
The magnified focus on the individual that is characteristic of Benton’s work during the 1950s results in an increasingly personal encounter between sitter and viewer. As in Evening Concert, Benton depicts his companions as he knew them and doing what they loved most. Of this point in Benton’s career, Matthew Baigell notes: “The energies that he formerly channeled into defining an American style and spirit have been directed toward a profound appreciation of his subject matter” (Thomas Hart Benton, New York, 1973, p. 183). Capturing the sonic beauty of music through visual means, Evening Concert reflects the best of Benton’s mature work, focusing on the individual essence of each sitter.

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