Thomas Hart Benton

Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire)
1948

Not on view

In 1947, Thomas Hart Benton was commissioned by Hollywood producer David O. Selznick to create an original painting based on a scene in the film version of Tennessee Williams’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire. The work was a gift for Selznick’s first wife, Irene, a theatrical producer responsible for bringing the play to Broadway in the same year. Poker Night captures the sexual tension and violent undertones in the relationships between Blanche DuBois, a down-and-out Southern belle (holding up a mirror), her sister, Stella (leaning over the armchair), and Stella’s husband, the hot-tempered, childlike Stanley Kowalski (wearing a white undershirt). It documents one of the play’s most dramatic and memorable moments, when Blanche taunts a drunk and angry Stanley with her petty provocations and refined airs.

Artist
Thomas Hart Benton

Title
Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire)

Date
1948

Classification
Paintings

Medium
Tempera and oil on linen mounted on composition board

Dimensions
Sheet (sight): 36 × 48 in. (91.4 × 121.9 cm)

Accession number
85.49.2

Credit line
Mrs. Percy Uris Bequest

Rights and reproductions information
© T.H. Benton and R.P. Benton Testamentary Trusts / Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Audio

  • Where We Are

    Thomas Hart Benton, Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire), 1948

    Thomas Hart Benton, Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire), 1948

    0:00

    Kathryn Potts: 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.

    Narrator: Kathryn Potts is Associate Director, Helena Rubinstein Chair of Education at the Whitney.

     Kathryn Potts: 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 Tennessee Williams's 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 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.

  • Where We Are, Spanish

    Thomas Hart Benton, Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire), 1948

    Thomas Hart Benton, Poker Night (from A Streetcar Named Desire), 1948

    0:00

    Kathryn Potts: Al observar esta pintura de Thomas Hart Benton, creo que es imposible evitar la increíble sensación de artificialidad. 

    Narrador: Kathryn Potts es Directora Asociada y Presidenta Helena Rubinstein de Educación en el Whitney.

    Kathryn Potts: Sin embargo, la teatralidad que observamos en la pintura es completamente apropiada, ya que se trata de una escena de teatro interpretada por actores en el escenario. La obra es Un tranvía llamado deseo de Tennessee Williams, que fue galardonada con un Premio Pulitzer y más tarde sería llevada a la gran pantalla. Esta pintura se realizó por encargo y tenía por objeto servir de obsequio sorpresa para Irene Selznik, productora de la obra teatral. 

    No obstante, lo que es interesante, en realidad, acerca de la historia es que Jessica Tandy, quien interpretaba el personaje de Blanche Du Bois, se sintió increíblemente ofendida por la manera en que Benton la retrató. De hecho, pareciera que se tratase de la ganadora de un concurso de camisetas mojadas. El vestido que lleva deja ver más de lo que cubre. Es interesante, además, que si uno compara la pintura, tal como la concibió Benton, con fotografías que se tomaron de la versión de la obra interpretada en escena, Jessica Tandy nunca llevó un vestido semejante. En realidad, usaba ese tipo de trajes con volados, cintas y moños, y sombreros de estilo sureño, y de ninguna forma habría intentado captar la atención de Stanley. 

    De alguna manera, Benton crea su propia interpretación. Y ese fue el verdadero motivo por el que Tandy, como actriz, lo consideró muy inapropiado. Hoy en día probablemente diríamos que ella sintió que Benton estaba culpabilizando a la víctima.



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