SkinCity Body Painting | American Painting

The Concept

American Scene Painting began taking roots in the early twentieth century and remained active until around 1950s. A type of American Realistic genre of art, it is also referred to as Regionalism. Post World War I (1914-19), the American art scene witnessed a transformation and a drift towards Naturalistic forms, away from Modernism. Like most of the Naturalistic styles of painting, American Scene Painting also covered the naturally expressed urban and rural life extensively. Often it was considered as constituted of two styles – ‘American Regionalism’ and ‘Social Realism’ (with urban themes). It is usually seen as a reaction against the influence of Abstraction and European styles on Contemporary Art, beginning in the late nineteenth century.

The History

American Regionalism was most active in the years surrounding 1930. This sect had a more rural orientation with the three-member art group known as ‘Regionalist Triumvirate’ at the forefront. Iowa-based Grant DeVolson Wood (1891-1942), Missouri-based Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975), and Kansas-based John Steuart Curry (1897-1946) formed the group. Interestingly, all the three had a European (in Paris) art education.

The Artists and the Artworks

Wood’s ‘American Gothic,’ dated 1930, is regarded as his most prized creation. The background of the work was inspired by a Gothic style small house that Wood came across in Eldon. The two human figures in the traditional male and female roles were, “…..the kind of people I fancied should live in that house,” in the painter’s words. Benton, a self-proclaimed ‘enemy of modernism,’ created his magnum opus ‘People of Chilmark (Figure Composition)’ in the year 1930 that portrays the rural life of the small, yet prosperous town of Chilmark.

‘Tragic Prelude,’ the masterwork dated 1938-40 by John Curry, had a different streak to the American Scene Painting. Its theme revolves around the ‘gory’ anti-slavery revolution in Kansas (1854-58), the precursor to the American Civil War. The frame captures the opponents & the proponents of slavery, up in arms against each other and the lead abolitionist John Brown as the central figure. This Regionalist work overlaps with the philosophy of Social Realism in America. The body of works in the Social Realism of America was mostly a politically charged artistic documentation of the urban Northeastern American Society. The 1922 pencil drawing ‘Morgan, Mellon, and Rockefeller’ by Robert Minor (1884-1952), and Ben Shahn’s (1898-1969) watercolor paintings based on the Resettlement Act (RA), viz., ‘Lest We Forget’ & ‘Years of Dust’ are some of the other examples in Social Realism.


Despite its publicly appealing philosophy, American Scene is treated as a misguided attempt and is shunned as evocatively regressive.