Art from Collection of Senator William Benton Will Be Auctioned May 7 at Treadway-Toomey Galleries Reginald Marsh’s “Gypsy Rose Lee, The Star and Garter,” a painting from the collection of Senator William Benton that drew fire in the McCarthyism era, is among the works that will be auctioned.
News-Antique.com - Nov 30,-0001 - OAK PARK, ILL. –- Works from the modern art collection of former United States Senator William Benton, which drew fire during the McCarthyism era, are expected to draw tremendous interest on May 7 at Treadway-Toomey Galleries' 20th Century Art & Design Auction. The auction begins at 10 a.m. at John Toomey Gallery at 818 North Blvd., in Oak Park, Ill.
Senator Benton and his modern art collection were the targets of attacks by Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s. Highlights among the works that will be auctioned are four paintings by Reginald Marsh, who painted social realist scenes of New York. The top lot, “Gypsy Rose Lee, The Star and Garter,” is a watercolor and ink, which is signed and dated 1943. Lee was the star of this Broadway show, which was produced by Mike Todd in the early 1940s. The presale estimate is $50,000 to $70,000.
Following is an excerpt from the auction catalog along with the lot numbers and descriptors for each of the 13 works to be auctioned from Senator Benton’s collection.
William Burnett Benton was born in Minneapolis on April 1, 1900. Following his graduation from Yale University in 1921, he began an illustrious career in advertising, working in New York City and Chicago and in 1929 forming Benton and Bowles with Chester Bowles. Within six years, the agency was the sixth-largest advertising firm in the world. In 1936, the restless Benton sold his share in the agency to his partners for over $1,000,000, and he left to become Vice President of the University of Chicago. In 1941 he purchased the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
William Benton became U.S. Assistant Secretary of State in 1945 and took charge of the overseas information programs. During his time in office, he was involved in the development of UNESCO and the Fulbright Scholarship Act. In 1949, he was elected to the Senate and the following year he became the first Democrat to support Dean Acheson against attacks from Joe McCarthy. Over the next year, Benton became one of the Senate’s leaders against McCarthyism. In 1951, Benton introduced a Senate resolution calling for the expulsion of Joe McCarthy, claiming that he had lied and “practiced deception” with his assertions that he had a list of communists working for the State Department. Joe McCarthy retaliated by accusing Benton of purchasing and displaying “lewd works of art” while in the State Department. As well as employing known communists, Benton was accused of anti-American behavior by having the Encyclopaedia Britannica printed in England rather than in the United States. According to McCarthy, Benton was the “hero of every communist and crook in and out of Government.”
In 1951, as Benton came up for re-election, McCarthy continued his smear campaign against Benton accusing him of hiring “communists, fellow travelers, or dupes of the Kremlin” and using government money to send “lewd and licentious” materials abroad through the U.S. information program. Benton lost the election and retired from politics.