With a monumental quality similar to that of his genre scenes, Thomas Hart Benton's still lifes are revered for their simple yet powerful compositions. Benton regularly painted still lifes throughout his long and distinguished career, and in a manner similar to his genre scenes which portray everyday American life, Benton's still lifes give an exceptionally personal insight into the surroundings and atmosphere of an average citizen.
The Blue Vase features the interior of Thomas and Rita Benton's home in Kansas City. The various still life elements are commonplace objects. An apple and a portion of cheddar cheese rest on an ordinary plate on a table covered with a damask tablecloth. On the table is a blue glass vase containing four tulips and a single iris. The bottle of wine remains unopened, suggesting that it may be kept for a special occasion, and the two glasses have not been used. According to tradition, the flowers featured here were given by Benton to his wife for her birthday and this painting was conceived on a day that Benton was irritated because he lacked subject matter to paint. His wife suggested that he paint the bouquet of flowers that Benton had given to her, and in this way, she would also be able to keep the flowers for posterity. Satisfied with her suggestion, Benton went about painting, and produced The Blue Vase.
Benton's mature style changed very little throughout the course of his career. Subtle gradations of color and graphic forms are the signatures that mark his most superb work. Furthermore, the energetic yet careful balance of color and composition, another trademark of Benton, is unmistakable in The Blue Vase. The Blue Vase adheres to the three basic principles of a successful composition that Benton established very early in his career. According to Benton's theory, there are "three primary factors in successful compositional structure. The first is equilibrium, the balancing of visual forces. It may be achieved through variety, the harmony of disparate elements - for example, by balancing small shapes against one large one. The second fundamental principle is sequence, or connection. In successful composition, the eye is led from one element to another down a visual pathway. The third fundamental principle is rhythm, which Benton noted, 'is a projection from our inner selves and does not exist in the structure of the object.' He defined rhythm as 'the repetition in a dynamic sequence, at alternating intervals, of similar factors.'" (H. Adams, Thomas Hart Benton, An American Original, New York, 1989, pp. 114-115)
A deeply personal picture, The Blue Vase was acquired directly from the artist by collectors who had become friends with the Bentons. While Benton is known for his poignant portrayals of the common American citizen, yet he often depicted things that were close to his heart, including his family and friends. However, his still lifes are unique as they provide insight into the lifestyle of the artist himself.