Thomas Hart Benton, Poker Night (from “A Streetcar Named Desire”), 1948. Tempera and oil on panel, 36 × 48 in. (91.4 × 121.9 cm). Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Mrs. Percy Uris Bequest 85.49.2
NARRATOR: Kathryn Potts talks about this painting by Thomas Hart Benton.
KATHRYNPOTTS: As you look at this painting by Thomas Hart Benton, I think you can’t help but be aware of the incredible sense of artificiality. However, the theatricality of the painting is totally appropriate because what we’re looking at is a scene from the theatre and these are actors on a stage. The play is Tennesse Williams’ Pulitzer Prize winning A Streetcar Named Desire, which would later become a movie. This painting was painted on commission. It was intended as a surprise gift for Irene Selznik, who was the producer of Streetcar. What’s really interesting about the story, however, is that Jessica Tandy, who plays the Blanche Du Bois character was incredibly offended by the way that Benton portrayed her. She looks actually like she’d be the prize contestant in a wet t-shirt contest. Her dress reveals more than it covers up. What’s also interesting is that if you compare the painting, as presented by Benton, to photographs that were actually made of the stage version of the play, Jessica Tandy never wore a dress like this. She in fact wore these kind of flouncy costumes with ribbons and bows on them, and southern-lady type hats, and she wasn’t at all somebody who would have tried to catch the attention of Stanley. And Benton kind of creates his own interpretation. And it was really this reason that Tandy as an actress felt that it was very inappropriate, and the way we would probably describe this today was that she felt that Benton was blaming the victim.