Mine Strike, Pittsburgh PA (Waiting on Verso, double-sided work)

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Based on the original drawing in the collection of the Huntington Museum of Art.

Benton made two compositions around this time of strike activities, this piece and a painting titled Strikebreakers, 1931, which was formerly in the collection of Senator William Benton of Southport, Connecticut. He clearly thought that this was the better of the two since he used it as the basis for a lithograph, Strike (also known as Mine Strike) which was issued in 1933 by the short-lived Contemporary Print Group. Benton was particularly interested in social issues in 1933, since in that year he illustrated a modern social history of the United States by his friend Leo Huberman, We the People, published by Harper & Brothers, New York. The oil sketch on the back is very interesting. It is a study for a painting titled Waiting, 1934, a work you will find reproduced in the catalogue of Benton’s exhibition at the Associated American Artists in New York in 1934, plate 30.

Benton’s use of oil on tin has an interesting origin. The father of his wife Rita was an Italian copper and tin worker, and Benton picked up the habit of making paintings on scraps that were left over from his projects.

‘Strike’ also titled Mine Strike. Lithograph circulated by Contemporary Print Group, New York City, Edition of 300. In October 1933 announcement was made of the formation of the “Contemporary Print Group,” which, “actuated by opposition to the purist idea of ‘art for art’s sake,’ is concerned with the belief that art can and should appeal to the general masses as well as to the cultivated few; that in striving to make his work more socially significant the artist naturally seeks to enlarge his public.” “Cooperative” in policy and in its profit-sharing, this new group was made up of the following: Reginald Marsh, Adolf Dehn, Charles Locke, Mabel Dwight, Jacob Burch, Jose Clemente Orozco, George Biddle, Thomas Hart Benton, George Grosz, and John Steuart Curry, with Leo Fischer acting as director. It was also announced that the group would issue a series of portfolios of lithographs bearing the title “The American Scene” each portfolio to contain six lithographs. ‘The American Scene,’ series Two, issued by the Contemporary Print Group in 1934, contained six lithographs by artists alive to contemporary social forces. The lithographs were Mine Strike by Thomas Hart Benton, Manhunt by John Steuart Curry, Sweatshop by William Gropper, Reviewing Stand by Russell Limbach, City Wharves by Charles Locke and Waterfront Scene by Raphael Soyer. Artist note: “Strike battle in the coal country. This is an imaginary reconstruction of a situation only too common in the late twenties and early thirties.” – Thomas Hart Benton

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