Figure and Boats

7:00 AM

Thomas Hart Benton, Figure and Boats, 1920
I came into a place mute of all light,
Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest,
If by opposing winds 't is combated.

The infernal hurricane that never rests
Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine;
Whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them.
-Inferno, Dante, Canto VII

As a local painter from a town outside of Kansas City, Missouri, Thomas Hart Benton grew up in the 1880s. His father did not approve of his painting, so he sent him off to military school. Benton's mother, on the other hand, was artistically inclined. He ended up devoting the majority of his life to art, obviously not taking his father's side. His work caused much controversy. Many people praised him for creating pieces that were realistic to the time period. Others thought of him as a drunk hillbilly or even an "okie baroque."

Benton regularly paints scenes of small town mayhem, which could be a product of his parents' relationship, or his own dealings with his parents. His father wanted Benton to follow in his footsteps and become a politician. Benton's mother supported him 100 percent She was totally invested in his life, emotionally and economically, at least until the day he married at the age of 33. Benton studied art at the Chicago Art Institute, and eventually moved to New York. Even as he established himself as an artist, Benton was still considered a drunken hillbilly.

In this piece, everything pulls and flows to the center. The circular patterns of the waves moves the eye in circles, like a whirlpool. Ending up at the person in the left hand corner. As one looks further into the piece, there is a house, standing on what seems to be a cliff. In Canto VII, Dante talks about a tower. In comparing the two works, the tower and house match up. This composition correlates with Dante's Inferno a great deal. With the winding river and the canoe at the base of the cliff, along with the figure depicting one of the many shades that are described in the text. Figure and Boats adds to the mystery and eeriness of Dante's Inferno.

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