Ploughing it Under, a painting that defined the uncertainty of Depression-era America, is a part of the permanent collection at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Alice Walton, philanthropist and chairman of the Crystal Bridges Museum board, made the announcement regarding this well-known work by long-time Kansas City resident and Missouri native Thomas Hart Benton.
“Telling the story – especially stories that haven’t been told or have been forgotten – is one of our primary goals,” said Walton. “It is the intention of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to build meaningful connections between art and life and to make sense of the forces that define the American experience. This painting by Benton certainly does just that and, in fact, enlightens and reminds us of another era of economic uncertainty in our history.”
Benton’s message in painting Ploughing it Under was to show concern regarding an agricultural program through the New Deal that called for the “ploughing under” of millions of acres of farmland in an effort to raise prices and increase revenue for farmers. The painting was produced as a lithograph in 1934 and was so popular that it sold out almost immediately.
“Ploughing it Under is among Benton’s most powerful images of rural America,” said Chris Crosman, chief curator at Crystal Bridges Museum. “While it evokes a particular moment in American history, it has a quality of timelessness in the taut rhythms and surging energy that are hallmarks of Benton’s best work. It is a kind of prayer to the land, a fist clenched against despair and desolation.”
Benton’s works were popular in the 1920s and ’30s for their scenes of rural life, which resonated with working-class Americans and farmers. In addition to his work as a painter, he was also a teacher, illustrator, printmaker and critic, he was known for his numerous murals. The son of a conservative Missouri politician, he began sketching images of rural life as he traveled with his father on the campaign trail. He later traveled throughout the country, sketching as he went, and these images would later be featured in his paintings and murals.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art
Crystal Bridges is envisioned as a premier national art institution dedicated to American art and artists. Under construction in Bentonville, Ark., the museum complex will encompass approximately 100,000 square feet of gallery, library, meeting, and office space, a 250-seat indoor auditorium, areas for outdoor concerts and public events, as well as sculpture gardens and walking trails.
Crystal Bridges will house a permanent collection of signature works from American artists. The growing permanent collection is composed of paintings and sculptures from the Colonial period through the modern era. Some announced works in the permanent collection are: the Hudson River School masterwork Kindred Spirits by Asher B. Durand, which is currently on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington (The Constable-Hamilton Portrait), which is currently on loan to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Portrait of Professor Benjamin H. Rand, currently on loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the most extensive surviving group of Colonial American portraiture, the Levy-Franks family paintings, currently on loan to The Jewish Museum in New York City.
Crystal Bridges takes its name from a natural spring on the museum’s wooded site as well as the unique glass-and-wood building design created by world-renowned architect Moshe Safdie. The 100-acre site of the museum complex and cultural center is located within walking distance of the Bentonville town square. For more information about Crystal Bridges, visit www.crystalbridges.org.
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