Thomas Hart Benton

The Lord is my Shepherd

On view
Floor 7



Tempera and oil on canvas

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

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

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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