Denys Wortman and Thomas Hart Benton
Thomas Hart Benton paints Denys Wortman Denys Wortman paints Thomas Hart Benton
Denys Wortman Thomas Hart Benton
40 x 30 oil on board 40 x 30 oil on board
Both paintings are the property of the New Britain Museum of American Art in New Britain, Connecticut.
In 1953, good friends for thirty years, Thomas Hart Benton and Denys Wortman were having dinner together with their families at Wortman's house on Martha's Vineyard. Benton suggested that he would like to paint a portrait of his friend Wortman. Long admirers of each other's work, Wortman was very pleased by the idea. A few weeks later while Wortman was posing for Benton in his studio in Chilmark, Wortman began to sketch Benton. So here was Wortman painting Benton painting Wortman and Benton painting Wortman painting Benton. Great friends had begun a painting duel. In the October 16, 1953 issue of Collier's Magazine, a story was written about these paintings entitled:
"The Battle of Beetlebung Corners"
When Savages duel they tear one another to shreds with whatever monstrous weapons are at hand. But civilized gentlemen are not so crude. Their tiffs are fought with pointed words, barbs of wit or deft ideas which draw no blood.
Thomas Hart Benton, of Kansas City, Missouri, is one of America's most famous fine artists. Denys Wortman is a cartoonist, the creator of Mopey Dick and the Duke, a widely syndicated newspaper cartoon. Benton and Wortman have been meeting in Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, near a place called Beetlebung Corners for the past 30 summers. They are great friends. But beetle-browed Tom Benton is a spirited soul who likes nothing better that a fight. Last month he challenged the placid Mr. Wortman to the most sophisticated duel since medieval poets flung verses at one another: he suggested that they oppose artistic talents in a match to see which of them could produce the better portrait of the other.
Wortman was reluctant, but he says: "Sitting for hours with that pirate glowering at me with his superanalytical stare and his sketchbook was too much for me. I had to defend myself."
The results of the momentous duel appear on these pages. To a wrestling referee it probably doesn't look like much of a battle, but an art critic who had seen the portraits writes: "The two paintings demonstrate impressive facility in technique, tremendous power and extraordinary balance of subject matter with philosophical intent." Translation: "Man, wotta fight!"
And so it was, two friends enjoying their great friendship together on Martha's Vineyard and creating two wonderful paintings. Who won the "Battle of Beetlebung Corners"? You be the judge and the next time you are in New Britain, Connecticut stop at the New Britain Museum of American Art and see the originals.
The museum has a fine collection of Benton paintings and murals.