times people tend to look at a work of art and only see a picture. Later, if one
looks closer a clear message or meaning is depicted by the artist. Thomas Hart
Bentons work, Cradling Wheat, for example is just a picture at first glance,
but as one examines the painting closer, the story behind it becomes evident.
This tempera and oil on board composition illustrates four men in a field
threshing and bundling wheat. Benton draws the viewers eye forward by placing
the characters in the foreground of the work and the surrounding landscape in
the back. Here, the American artist presents the focal point he intended. The
faces of the men in the piece are all hidden by hats, distance, or turned backs.
By hiding their faces the conclusion can be drawn that these men are hired
hands. Benton emphasizes the type of men by presenting them in similar clothing.
All dressed in charcoal trousers and sky-blue work shirts, they appear to be
wearing uniforms. Perhaps the artist feels that most farm hands were no-named
and insignificant and expresses his opinion by giving them these
characteristics. Assumable is the fact that the painting depicts times before
electricity and the invention of motors because the men are using hand tools to
cut and bundle the wheat. Included in the focal point, of course, is the wheat.
Benton combines texture and a vivid shade of tan to bring the wheat field to
life. While the texture of the wheat is definite, it is also soft, creating the
effect of a light breeze in the Midwestern scene. The brightness of the color of
the wheat also adds to the 3 atmosphere created by the artist. While the
background sets a certain mood, the brilliance of the wheat helps define the
type of day Benton wanted to portray-a hot, summer afternoon. In addition to the
wheat, a few small wildflowers are scattered throughout the field. The
philosophy behind the dispersed blossoms suggests a break in the monotony of
constancy. There is a constancy of wheat and a constancy of labor and while the
clever, American artist is aiming to show the life of a farmhand, he added the
flowers to simply break up the invariability. The secondary part of the
composition, the background, does nothing more than set the mood or atmosphere
and provide a specific landscape for the work. Closest to the focal point is a
line of trees and foliage which separates the wheat field from another field.
The use of the dark emerald vegetation emphasizes the certainty that the scene
is on an immense farm. Behind the wild foliage is another spacial field of a
light shade of green. By adding this field, Benton implies that the farm grows a
variety of crops, but again, it chiefly adds to the landscape and little more
than that. Following the light green field is yet another field. It appears to
be a second wheat field of a darker shade of tan. The tawny hue of this field
gives a shaded effect achieving a distant air. While most of the background
exclusively sets the scene, this subsequent wheat field also seems to signify
the vast workload.
Arts and Painting