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Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)
The Arts of Life in America: Arts of the City, ca. 1932
Tempera with oil glaze
Harriet Russell Stanley Fund - 1953.19

Arts of the City, one panel of the five-part series by Thomas Hart Benton entitled The Arts of Life in America, is rich with imagery from the Great Depression era. According to Benton, the subject of the mural is the experience of real things and real people in America. Thus the people are not glorified but are depicted wearing clothing appropriate to a range of daily activity. Despite the Great Depression, the fashion industry persisted, and Paris continued to turn out two collections a year. The silhouette becomes much simpler, in keeping with the flat economic situation. There was an increased use of the bias cut which created a form-fitting dress. The figures have little in the way of accessories; one woman wears a simple gold bracelet, and a man wears a diamond ring. The difference in the economic status can be detected not only by the clothing that is worn but perhaps by body shape. The well-fed and voluptuous are seen in contrast to the angular and hungry.