American University
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Thomas Hart Benton: popular culture and the American nude

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posted on 2023-09-07, 05:14 authored by Louise Haven Ashley

My research examines four artworks by the American Regionalist Thomas Hart Benton that offer different depictions of the nude and semi-nude female: the America Today (1930-31) mural series, Hollywood (1937-38), Susanna and the Elders (1938) and Persephone (1938-39), all from the 1930s. Benton's interest in the eroticized female body, influenced by popular culture, is evident in these works. I propose that Benton incorporated the visual cues of pin-ups and "pretty girl" imagery into the iconography of Persephone to create an inherently American nude, so that his American aesthetic might compete with the European tradition. Through a feminist analysis, I will examine the reactions that women and men had, and may have towards the sexualized female body used in advertising, film, and print media during the 1930s. My research concludes after examining Benton's eroticized interpretation of the originally violent Greek mythology and Apocryphal narratives that inspired Susanna and Persephone.



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