• Thomas Hart Benton & Margot Peet

    Posted on March 25th, 2014 katlinw No comments

    This week I examine the twin “Persephone” paintings of Thomas Hart Benton and Margot Peet.

    Benton was an American painter who lived from 1889 to 1975. H labored from 1938 to 1939 on his painting “Persephone.” Unframed, the painting measures an impressive 72 1/8 x 56 1/16 inches.

    Peet completed her version of “Persephone” in 1939 alongside Benton, who was her teacher at the Kansas City Art Institute. Her Persephone measures 16 x 21 inches.

    Both paintings currently reside at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

    Benton’s “Persephone” depicts a nude female lying beneath a tree, next to discarded clothing and a basket of flowers. A man, likely Benton himself, is shown peeking from behind to tree to gaze at the naked woman. In the background is a pastoral scene, including a still river, fields, and a horse-drawn cart.

    Thomas Hart Benton’s “Persephone”

    Peet’s “Persephone” shows a nude female lying in a forest, with similar clothing discarded. The background is primarily trees, with a small slice of a river visible.

    Margot Peet’s “Persephone”

    These twin paintings provide a very unique look at Persephone in American fine art because they were painting in the same place, at the same time, by two artists with very similar techniques. The only major difference that I can find is gender.

    Benton’s painting is quite literally, given the man peeking from behind a tree to look at the nude female, a depiction of Persephone that is very focused on the male gaze.

    This provides a new dimension with which I can evaluate the presence of Persephone in American fine art.

    Perhaps I should not be asking simply which aspect of Persephone (Kore, bride, wife) is most prevalent in American art, but if there is a split along gender lines of the artists.

    This would potentially be a more relevant question for me, as I have always been very focused on gender studies.

    However, I will first have to re-examine all the artwork I have found to determine if this is a valid question or not.


    2 responses to “Thomas Hart Benton & Margot Peet” RSS icon

    • Katie,

      The similarities between these paintings are quite striking. I wonder what these similarities can tell you about modern receptions of Persephone. While I am not versed in the analysis of fine art, the first similarity that I noticed when looking at these works was the pose that Persephone assumed in both images. Is that a significant body position that connotes any meaning? It looks like some form of repose, and I wonder if that might suggest anything about the artist’s view of the goddess.


      • The story in Homer’s writing states that Persephone (Greek goddess of vegetation, especially grain, and the wife of Hades) was gathering flowers with the Oceanids along with Artemis and Pallas, daughter of Triton, as the Homeric Hymn says, in a field when Hades came to abduct her, bursting through a cleft in the earth. Is Tom Benton (he is the man in the painting, a self portrait) portraying himself as Hades, ready to abduct an unaware goddess who has just collected some flowers (note the basket with flowers in it)??? Seems reasonable. My friend Eric Bransby (1916-2020) who just passed a few days ago, was a student and in the classroom with Margot Peet, Mary Ann Henning (whom Eric would marry before they graduated)and others when they were ALL doing the model’s portrait. Hence, there are numerous portraits of the model somewhere in the world (assuming not destroyed) in the same pose (unassuming, relaxing)done at the same time in 1938.

    Leave a reply

    You must be logged in to post a comment.