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Thomas Hart Benton

The Lord is my Shepherd

1926

On View

Floor 7

Robert W. Wilson Galleries

Artist

Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975)

Title

The Lord is my Shepherd

Date

1926

Medium

Tempera and oil on canvas

Dimensions

Overall: 33 3/8 × 27 7/16 in. (84.8 × 69.7 cm) Image: 32 5/8 × 26 3/4 in. (82.9 × 67.9 cm)

Credit line

Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase

Accession number

31.100

Object Label

Thomas Hart Benton’s The Lord is My Shepherd is an early landmark of American Regionalism, a patriotic, narrative art that sought to preserve rural or small-town values during the Great Depression. Completed on Martha’s Vineyard, an island off the Massachusetts coast where Benton worked in the small town of Chilmark every summer from 1920 until his death, the painting portrays George and Sabrina West, who lived down the hill from the artist’s makeshift studio. The residents of Chilmark had lived in relative isolation since the late seventeenth century, and as a result of generations of intermarriage, half of the population suffered from hereditary deafness. The Wests, a hard-working couple with three children, were deaf-mutes. This may explain Benton’s prominent treatment of their hands in proportion to their heads and bodies. The couple’s hands are shown roughened from the forms of manual labor–fishing, farming, and grazing sheep—by which they supported themselves. The overall composition suggests the subjects’ humility and piety—virtues encapsulated in the sampler on the wall which reads, “The Lord is My Shepherd.”

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