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Arts & Culture

Masters of regionalism at the McNay

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Thomas Hart Benton, Letter from Overseas, 1943, lithograph


Created for the New York-based Associated American Artists, which sold fine art prints by mail order, Sultry Night was declared pornographic by the U.S. Postal Service. Funny, considering art historian Karal Ann Marling calls Benton’s Persephone “one of the great works of American pornography.”

Actually, both are American masterpieces and anyone who equates mere nudity with porno hasn’t seen an X-rated website recently.

The meticulous craftsmanship Wood brought to all his work is on full display in Sultry Night, which resembles fine-grain pointillism. Thousands of tiny pinprick-size dots are used to build up well-defined blocks of shading in the print, which has the same smooth lines, rounded forms and clean looks of Wood’s paintings. July 15, 1938 is even more typical; the sculpted hillside fields with neat fence lines and formalized trees were derived from the Chinese landscapes decorating plates his mother admired.

Wood also spent time in Europe, primarily studying 16th-century Flemish masters such as Jan van Eyck, whose meticulous realism and bright palette are echoed in Wood’s most famous painting, American Gothic. Scholars, incidentally, are now divided over whether it’s one of the most recognizable symbols of heartland virtue, or a sly, campy satire of American family values.

The America of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton

$10-$15; Free 4-9 pm Thu
Noon-5pm Sun;
10am-4pm Tue, Wed, Fri;
10am-9pm Thu;
10am-5pm Sat
McNay Art Museum
6000 N New Braunfels
(210) 824-5368
mcnayart.org
Through September 8

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