1952, oil on board
9 x 11 inches
Essay by Henry Adams
Author of Thomas Hart Benton: An American Original
Around 1950, as Regionalism came under attack, Benton began to make trips into the lonely regions of the west and to produce paintings of western subject matter based on the sketches that he made. These paintings generally have few if any human figures. Indeed they often have a lonely character and often contain elements that are slightly odd, even slightly surreal, and perhaps gently humorous in the way they are presented. At the same time, the openness of the western landscape, and the clarity of the light, gives these paintings a quality of serenity—as if they represented a clearing of the air. Two paintings in the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, “Desert Still Life,”1951, and “Open Country,” 1952, provide good illustrations of his work at this point and serve as useful touchstones of Benton’s style. The almost cartoon-like grinning animal skull in the foreground of “Desert Still Life” is a striking instance of the odd humor often present in these works.
In spirit “West Texas” seems to fit right between these two paintings. The motif of a desert landscape with windmill is very close to that of “Open Country.” The slightly odd presentation of the cow and calf, which makes them seem almost like one creature, has something of the surrealistic quality of the “Desert Still Life.”