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The recto of the panel is a color study for the painting Keith Farm, 1951, 24 x 36 inches, which is reproduced in the Polly Burroughs book Thomas Hart Benton: A Portrait, Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York, 1981, page 178. The full-size painting sold for 1.8 million dollars in 2006, the first Benton at auction to break one million dollars sinceHomeward Bound in 1989. The farm pictured, with its dramatic view of the ocean, belonged to Eldon Bradford Keith and Lucile Pruet Keith, and was located on Middle Road on Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard, just up the hill from Beetlebung Corner and only a short walk from the Benton home. They were also the original owners of the painting. It was a working farm from 1947 to 1995 and at its peak had a herd of beef cattle, several pigs, 1500 chickens and six milk cows.
The verso of the panel is a grisaille study for another well-known painting by Benton, View of Menemsha, 1954, oil on panel, 18.5 x 27 inches, which was commissioned from Benton by David Mavity, who had homes in Martha’s Vineyard and Greenwich, Connecticut. The painting has passed through various hands and at one point belonged to the singer and movie star Barbara Streisand. There’s also a watercolor study for this painting, which sold at Sotheby Park Bernet on December 10, 1981, lot 45, which is titled From My Mother’s House, The Clamer, 1952. This establishes that the boat in the foreground is that of a clamer and that the view was taken from the front lawn of Benton’s mother’s house, located just above the hill from his own home.
The painting is one of those that Benton set aside for his daughter. The verso of the painting carries the inscription “this belongs to Jessie” in the handwriting of Rita Piacenza Benton, the artist’s wife, referring to the artist’s daughter Jessie Benton. I’m not clear about the significance of the inscription “Chilmark #9” although both these works were painted in the town of Chilmark. – Dr. Henry Adams