Picture. Later, if one looks closer, a clear message or meaning is depicted by the artist. For example, Thomas Hart Benton’s work, Cradling Wheat,” 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 viewer’s 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 nameless and insignificant and expresses his opinion by giving them these characteristics.
It is assumable that the painting depicts a time before electricity and the invention of motors because the men are using hand tools to cut and bundle the wheat. The focal point of the painting is the wheat field, which Benton brings to life through the combination of texture and a vivid shade of tan. The texture of the wheat is definite yet soft, creating the effect of a light breeze in the Midwestern scene. The brightness of the wheat’s color also adds to the 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 labor, and while the clever American artist aims to show the life of a farmhand, he added the flowers to break up the invariability.
The secondary part of the composition is the background, which 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 that 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 spatial field of a light shade of green.
By adding this field, Benton implies that the farm grows a variety of crops, but 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.