A pair of whimsical letters, handwritten and with illustrations by the renowned American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), are expected to be centerpiece lots in an auction slated for Saturday, Nov. 12, by Dirk Soulis Auctions.
Both letters were written by Mr. Benton to his parents while he was in his early 20s – one in 1906, when he was attending Western Military Academy in Alton, Ill.; and the other between 1908 and 1911, while he was studying art in Paris. The illustrations, which relate to the narrative content, were done in pen and ink. The letters carry pre-sale estimates of $2,500-$5,000 each.
“It will be interesting to see how these letters do, considering there are no records of anything like them having ever been offered on the national market,” said Dirk Soulis of Dirk Soulis Auctions. “The illustrations and lively content should make them desirable to collectors, and they’re both clean and intact. They were sold at a little-publicized auction by a relative of Mr. Benton’s some years ago, and the current owner very fortunately has consigned them to us.”
The 1906 letter, written from Western Military Academy, runs three pages, two of which have illustrations relating to life at the academy. On the back side of page one is a full-length portrait of the quartermaster, and on the third page is a depiction of Sunday dinner so crowded “it’s barely possible to get your foot to your mouth.” Each page measures 9.5 inches by 6 inches.
The other letter, written from Paris, includes a self-portrait illustration of the artist with a pompadour-style hair-do, sitting in his flat. Another drawing he titles “my foot in sandals.” The content gives accounts of Mr. Benton’s work and daily life. He talks about landscape painting, the cost of materials, a baker who extends him credit, his art dealer, a hired model and more.
Thomas Hart Benton went on to become one of America’s foremost painters and muralists. Along with Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry, he was at the forefront of the Regionalist art movement. His fluid, almost sculpted works depicted scenes of everyday life in the United States.