collections
American

Thomas Hart Benton

U.S. 1889-1975
Jesse James 85.0005

Music was an important part of Thomas Hart Benton's life, a fact reflected in the many illustrations that he did for folk songs. Folk stories also inspired Benton, who chose three, Frankie and Johnny, Huck Finn, and Jesse James as subjects for mural panels at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. Jesse James (1847-1882) was a legendary figure in Missouri history. A member of Quantrill's Raiders during the Civil War, Jesse and his brother Frank led the "James Gang," robbing banks and trains all over the Midwest, Colorado, and Texas. Benton used a descendent of the James clan as a model for the foreground figure in this lithograph. Benton, along with Wood and Curry, was often commissioned to illustrate books, plays, and magazine articles. In 1939, for instance, Twentieth Century Fox commissioned Benton to make a series of characterizations of the main characters of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath, images that were later used to promote the film. In 1954 Benton also illustrated a special edition of Lynn Riggs' play Green Grow the Lilacs (the source for the musical Oklahoma!).

 

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