Born in Neosho, Missouri on April 15, 1889, Thomas Hart Benton was arguably one of the most important practitioners of the American Scene movement. Benton's lifelong interest in figure compositions began with his academic training at the Art Institute of Chicago and in Paris at the Academies Julian and Colarossi where he made copious figure studies from plaster and live models. Arriving in Paris in August 1908, Benton enrolled in the academies for only a few months before he left the classroom in favor of copying Old Master works at the Louvre. In France, Benton was also exposed to modern painting, particularly the work of Cezanne and his good friend Stanton MacDonald-Wright. From these early artistic encounters, Benton would "eventually develop his elaborate theories of figure organization". (H. Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: Drawing from Life, Seattle, W ashington, 1990, p. 60)
Benton left Paris for New York in 1911. Over the course of the subsequent decade, Benton moved away from his early academic influences toward artistic expressions that were purely American. (M. Baigell, Thomas Hart Benton, New York, 1975, p. 55) In 1920, Benton spent his first summer on Martha's Vineyard and made figure and landscape studies there on the shores of Menemsha Pond that captured the local people and place. "For the remainder of his life, he returned every summer to the island, and for the first half of the 1920's, Martha's Vineyard provided the subject matter for nearly all of his major paintings" (H. Adams, Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original, New York, 1989, p.94) In figural works from this period, including Figure Organization, Benton imbued his models with weight and substance and often placed the "muscular, seminude figures in tense, contorted poses, like those favored by Michelangelo and Carracci". (Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original, p. 69)
In Figure Organization, Benton chooses a bold palette of colors. The orange and red dresses of the upper figures are in balance as bands of bright yellow cross horizontally behind them. The background foliage serves as a cool counterpoint of blues and greens. Compositionally, the figures in orange, red and blue lean toward one another creating a circular connection while a young girl dressed in white stands slightly away from this grouping. She leans toward her companions, but turns her head away creating a twisted pose similar to the barren tree directly above her. Benton gives substance to his figures and integrates them harmoniously into the natural scene through color, composition and the use of repetitive shape and design elements.
According to the artist, Figure Organization was painted in the early 1920's and "it is typical of the period." (T.H. Benton, photograph inscription, 22 July 1970) In a letter to relatives of the present owner of Figure Organization, Benton writes, "I recognized your picture immediately. It is indeed one of mine - early twenties. I did not usually sign pictures in those days - thought the style enough signature. . . I've signed the photo and am sending it back to you." (T.H. Benton, letter, 22 July 1970)
Copies of a letter from the artist and a photograph of the painting signed by the artist accompany the lot.