Construction Scene (Excavation)
Benton made a few other construction site drawings around 1924, some of which may well record this same construction site. For example, Karal Ann Marling reproduces two ink and wash drawings of steam shovels, one undated, the other dated 1924, in her book Tom Benton and His Drawings, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, 1985. They are reproduced on pages 31 and 78. Very likely both record the same construction project as your drawing. Of the drawings of this sort that I’ve seen, the one you have is in my judgment the best–it has the best observed detail, and the most panoramic view of the scene, as well as the best-resolved composition, with a nice organization of spiraling forms.
Around the time he was making these drawings Benton also produced his first paintings of construction scenes, such as Construction, 1923, in the Benton Trust, and a lost painting that was reproduced on the front page of the New York American in 1927. You’ll find these works reproduced in my book Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1989, pages 92 and 150. Benton’s friends Boardman Robinson and Jan Matulka also made drawings of construction scenes around this time, probably under Benton’s influence.
In short, this drawing is not only authentic but is quite significant within Benton’s oeuvre, both for its quality and because it represents a moment when he was introducing a new kind of subject matter into American art.
2. Boardman Robinson
Trade and Commerce in the United States–the Twentieth Century
History of Commerce Mural
1929, paint on canvas