switch views:
  • view lightbox
  • view single item
  • view list

Thomas Hart Benton

Born: 1889, Neosho, Missouri, United States of America
Died: 1975, Kansas City, Missouri, United States of America

Huck Finn
1936

Lithograph on white wove Rives paper
Image: 16 9/16 x 21 5/8 in. (42.1 x 54.9 cm)
Sheet: 19 x 23 1/2 in. (48.3 x 59.7 cm)
Mat: 24 x 30 in. (61.0 x 76.2 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1995.24
Signed: In graphite, lower left (beneath image): Benton; in stone, lower left: Benton
Artist Name: []

Interpretation

Inspired by The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by celebrated nineteenth-century American author Mark Twain, Thomas Hart Benton presents the story's barefoot adventurers on a log raft along the river that they both hope will lead them to a better life. In the moonlit scene, the runaway boy Huck Finn gazes admiringly at his tall companion Jim, an escaping slave, who holds a large catfish he has caught for their supper. To the right of the tree silhouetted behind Jim and Huck, a pair of oarsmen steer their raft along the forceful current propelling them downriver as a fellow passenger waves wildly at the passing paddle-wheeler in the right background. The steamboat, representing society's technological prowess and the "sivilization" from which both characters seek to escape, spews puffs of white steam and a long trail of sooty black smoke as it travels steadily upriver. Here, as in Twain's novel, the vigorously flowing Mississippi River symbolizes freedom outside the control of civilization, but equal emphasis is given to the sympathetic relationship between the two characters, shown during a peaceful hiatus in their challenging journey.

This print recasts in reverse a scene Benton painted the same year, 1936, as part of the monumental mural series Social History of the State of Missouri for the House of Representatives lounge within the Missouri State Capital in Jefferson City, Missouri. Printed in an edition of 100, this lithograph was published by Associated American Artists, New York.

Return to top

Provenance

The artist
Margo Pollins Schab, Inc., New York, New York
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois, 1995

Return to top

Exhibition History

The People Work: American Perspectives, 1840–1940 (Le Travail à l'oeuvre: les artistes américains 1840–1940), Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, March 15–May 25, 2003; Musée d'Art Américain Giverny, France, June 8–August 17, 2003. [exh. cat.]

Return to top

Published References

Fath, Creekmore. The Lithographs of Thomas Hart Benton. Rev. ed. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1979. Text p. xviii–xix, no. 12, pp. 44–45; ill. p. xvii.

Dains, Martha. "Thomas Hart Benton's Huck Finn Illustrations Commemorate Mark Twain." Missouri Historical Review 82 (October 1985): 1–13.

Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975): Lithographs, An Exhibition. (exh. cat., Hubert Gallery). New York: Hubert Gallery, 1989.

Master Prints of Five Centuries: The Alan and Marianne Schwartz Collection. (exh. cat., The Detroit Institute of Arts). Detroit, Michigan: Founders Society, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1990. No. 15, p. 48.

Return to top

Sign on