#26 – Thomas Hart Benton Museum
3616 Belleview Ave, Kansas City, MO 64111
Good for: Artists, locals, history buffs.
Tip: Stop at Room39 on nearby 39th Street for breakfast before the tour.
About Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton is Missouri’s most renowned artist of the 20th century. His art career spanned seven decades, and he worked until his death at 85 years old.
Benton was born in Neosho, Mo. in 1889. He was the son of Missouri Congressman Maecenas E. Benton and great, great nephew of Missouri’s first senator, Thomas Hart “Old Bullion” Benton.
As a young man, Benton wanted to be an artist, but his father opposed. He wanted Thomas to study law. It wasn’t until Thomas did one year of military school that he father finally allowed him to study art at the Art Institute of Chicago and several academies in Paris.
Though his career began as a cartoonist, Benton is known for his large-scale Regionalist murals. His art largely interprets realistic American lifestyles and cultures, and can be found across the United States. His most famous works include:
- A Social History of the State of Missouri – Missouri Capital Building, Jefferson City, MO
- Independence and the Opening of the West – Harry S. Truman Library & Museum, Independence, MO
- Indiana Murals – Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana
- America Today – Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
- Persephone – Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
In his early career, Benton spent several years perfecting a new method of painting he called “The Grand Design”. He would travel the country, sketching as he went. When he returned home to his studio, he would sketch again to determine the flow of the painting, then use clay models to help with the spatial organization. Once the models were built, Benton would paint a gray scale canvas, then a small painting with color, grid out the small painting and begin the process of the actual piece. The process was a long one, but successful.
About The Thomas Hart Benton Museum
The Thomas Hart Benton Museum is on the National Registry of Historic Places and a Missouri State Park. The beautiful old house in located in Midtown, near 39th street and Miami Ice.
My first apartment in Kansas City was actually just around the corner from the Thomas Hart Benton Museum. I walked by the museum a lot when I lived in the neighborhood, but never made the time to go until now. The museum was once the Benton’s home between 1939 and 1975. It is like many other homes in the area – gorgeous, large and made of limestone.
The house is just as the Bentons left it, with many of their personal belongings and Benton’s original paintings still in place. His studio is the same – coffee cans of paint brushes, numerous paints and a stretched canvas still filling the space. Thomas Hart Benton died in his studio on Jan. 19, 1975 just after he finished The Sources of Country Music, a mural painted for the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.
After the death of Tom and his wife, the State of Missouri purchased the house in 1977, and have preserved their history ever since.
The museum is open 10am to 4pm on Monday and Thursday-Saturday and 12pm to 5pm on Sunday. For just $5 you get a 45-minute guided tour from a knowledgeable guide. Because there are no set tour times, tours start whenever people show up.
It was an enjoyable hour learning about The Bentons, the art and the home. xx, Libbie.