A Social History
of the State of Indiana

Thomas Hart Benton's American Murals

In 1932 Thomas Hart Benton was commissioned by the Indiana Department of Conservation to create a mural for the Indiana state exhibition at the 1933 A Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago. Richard Lieber, the director of the department, wanted to present a story that went beyond what most people associated with Indiana—farmland, flat plains and county fairs—and proclaim Indiana’s rich history.

Benton had completed the mural The Arts of Life in America at the Whitney Museum the same year that he was chosen to glorify the Hoosier State. A Social History of the State of Indiana was a similar undertaking—both murals are vast and passionate studies of the struggles and triumphs of American life and culture, rendered in a grand style inspired by Mexican muralists and the spirit of the WPA.

Cultural Panel 8 from A Social History of the State of Indiana. Image: Indiana University.

Benton spent six months traveling the state creating character and mise-en-scène sketches for what would become a sixteen panel, two-hundred-foot painting on the cultural, political and industrial history of Indiana. The mural fixed an unsparing eye on American history, with scenes that range from celebrations of indigenous potters to the forced removal of Native Americans, a Socialist rally led by Eugene V. Debs, the stronghold the KKK had on regional politics in the 1920s, and their eventual removal from power, thanks to the tenacious efforts of the Indiana press. Benton also honored Indiana’s farmers, wildlife, writers and artists and the steel and railroad industries.

The current lot is a sketch of a portion of Cultural Panel 8, titled Leisure and Literature and depicts the Indiana-born Impressionist painter William Forsyth at an easel, a fair vendor with his curious dog, a burly bartender and his wobbly patron at a saloon and scholars in the foreground reading. Benton gifted this sketch to Wallace Richards, one of the supervisors of the exhibition. The mural, in its entirety, now resides at the Indiana University Auditorium in Bloomington.

I visualized this history as realistic and factual. Realistic as to form, and factual as to content.

Thomas Hart Benton

David & Vivian Campbell

20th Century Collectors and Philanthropists

David and Vivian Campbell were prominent philanthropists of the arts in Canada and collectors of early modern masters. Over the course of half a century, David and Vivian built a collection around intimate and dazzling works by giants of early 20th century art—Picasso, Matisse, Gris, Gauguin, Munch and Rodin among them—as well as later 20th century artists such as Will Barnet, Saul Steinberg and David Hockney, who grew out of the traditions of earlier masters, with a reverence for landscape and portraiture.

The scope of the century, along with the Campbells' distinct tastes within its vastness, are presented in the selection offered here; a landscape study of Le Pont Neuf by Paul Signac from 1895, the earliest work in the sale, shares the same musicality of color as Andy Warhol's screenprint of Beethoven from nearly one hundred years later. Portraits by Matisse and Hockney, done forty years apart, both present subjects that are quirky and grounded, executed with an economy and confidence of line. Irving Penn photographs Igor Stravinsky with the same adulatory nod seen in a portrait by André Kertész of his predecessor, Brassaï. An exuberant collage by Picasso celebrates the birth of his son, while Old Man's Afternoon by Will Barnet meditates on loss and aging. A thread evident throughout the selection is the ability for the art that we love to reflect the life that we live.

David and Vivian Campbell in their home in Toronto, 1997,
with Picasso's Jacqueline tricottant. Image: Jeff Goode.