Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Remembering a Veteran: Thomas Hart Benton, USN, Camoufleur

Panel from "America Today," Thomas Hart Benton, (1930–31)

After studying in Europe, fledgling artist and future muralist Thomas Hart Benton (1889–1975) moved to New York City in 1912 and resumed painting. During World War I, he served in the U.S. Navy and was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia. His war-related work had an enduring effect on his style. He was directed to make drawings and illustrations of shipyard work and life, and this requirement for realistic documentation strongly affected his later style. 

Later in the war, classified as a "camoufleur," Benton drew the camouflaged ships that entered Norfolk harbor. His work was required for several reasons: to ensure that U.S. ship painters were correctly applying the camouflage schemes, to aid in identifying U.S. ships that might later be lost, and to have records of the ship camouflage of other Allied navies. Benton later said that his work for the Navy "was the most important thing, so far, I had ever done for myself as an artist."

During the Second World War, Benton was an official Navy war artist and turned out a memorable series of life about Navy ships, submarines, and shipyards.

First World War Sketch, Probably Norfolk Navy Yard

Camouflage Documentation Prepared by Benton

WWII Series:  "She's Off," Launching an LST, 1944

Sources:  Wikipedia, U.S. Navy Art Collection, Chrysler Museum Websites


  1. Posted by the Editor for Stephen Harris
    Before the war, Benton came to New York City with three fellow Missourians -- the actor William Powell, jazz age illustrator Ralph Barton and my great uncle Raeburn Van Buren, the cartoonist and art editor of the 27th Division's magazine, Gas Attack. They shared a studio at the old Lincoln Arcade, now site of the Lincoln Center. My uncle told me that one night Benton was stabbed by a model who was chasing him down the hall of the apartment building knife in hand and Benton towel held against his stomach. Years later, American Heritage magazine, in a piece about Benton, mentioned the stabbing and said it could not be confirmed. Well, yes it could.

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