Prodigal Son

MAKER:
Artist

Thomas Hart Benton ( American, 1889 - 1975 )

DATE:
c. 1939–1941
more object details

General Description

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.

Adapted from

  • Sue Canterbury, DMA label text, 2013

  • William Keyse Rudolph, DMA label text, 2005

Related Multimedia

Translating Culture II is a collaborative project between the DMA, MAP - Make Art with Purpose, and Architecture Cluster students from Dallas ISD's Skyline High School. The group met over the course of two months, finding inspiration through the exploration of the DMA's collection and working in small teams to create personal interpretations, creative responses, and contextual information.
Translating Culture II is a collaborative project between the DMA, MAP - Make Art with Purpose, and Architecture Cluster students from Dallas ISD's Skyline High School. The group met over the course of two months, finding inspiration through the exploration of the DMA's collection and working in small teams to create personal interpretations, creative responses, and contextual information.
Translating Culture II is a collaborative project between the DMA, MAP - Make Art with Purpose, and Architecture Cluster students from Dallas ISD's Skyline High School. The group met over the course of two months, finding inspiration through the exploration of the DMA's collection and working in small teams to create personal interpretations, creative responses, and contextual information.
Translating Culture II is a collaborative project between the DMA, MAP - Make Art with Purpose, and Architecture Cluster students from Dallas ISD's Skyline High School. The group met over the course of two months, finding inspiration through the exploration of the DMA's collection and working in small teams to create personal interpretations, creative responses, and contextual information.

Web Resources

  • Parable of the Prodigal Son
    Learn more about the parable of the Prodigal Son and view a 16th century painting depicting this story at Museo del Prado.

  • Thomas Hart Benton, YouTube
    Watch this 1947 video of Thomas Hart Benton creating a mural for a department store in St. Louis, Missouri.