Thomas Hart Benton ( American, 1889 - 1975 )
- c. 1939–1941
The New Testament parable of the Prodigal Son receives an updated retelling in this Depression-era painting by Thomas Hart Benton. In the biblical story, a headstrong young man goes out into the world to seek his fortune and falls into vice. When he returns home broken and battered, he is welcomed by his father. The story has resonated for centuries as an example of the limitless possibilities of forgiveness.
In this painting exploring a dust-bowl version of the biblical story, the young man's return comes too late. The homestead is in ruins, the chimney stands aslant like a tombstone over a dilapidated grave, and the cow is but a skeleton. In addition, the clouds take on the shapes of howling dogs. This ironic twist to the biblical story underscores both the grim reality of conditions in the Midwest during the 1930s and 1940s and the artist's personal experiences with events that were beyond any man's power to control.
Sue Canterbury, DMA label text, 2013
William Keyse Rudolph, DMA label text, 2005