The Fuller Building, 41 East 57th Street, 9th Floor New York City, NY 10022 United States 212.535.8810
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$ 75,000

Saying Grace

Documentation Signed
Origin United States
Period 1920-1949
Materials Egg tempera on Masonite
W. 15 in; H. 10.25 in;
W. 38.1 cm; H. 26.04 cm;
Condition Excellent.
Creation Date 1941-42
Description Genre image
Signed, dated, and inscribed (at lower left): ROGER MEDEARIS ’41; (on the back): SAYING GRACE / EGG TEMPERA / WITH / OIL GLAZES / ROGER MEDEARIS / 1942

Though he came of age after Regionalism’s heyday in the 1930s, Roger Medearis is a direct connection to the Regionalism of Thomas Hart Benton. Born in Fayette, Missouri, Medearis went to Kansas City at the age of eighteen to study at the Kansas City Art Institute, with the hopes of becoming a commercial illustrator in the manner of Norman Rockwell. Shortly after his arrival, Medearis learned that Benton was an instructor at the Institute, and he soon was a regular in Benton’s classroom. In very short order, Meadearis absorbed every tenet of Benton’s pedagogical exhortations to study the masters of the Renaissance, with particular emphasis on formulating a strong overall design using repeated formal patterns as a structural principle for each painting. Meadearis also absorbed many of Benton’s own techniques as well, producing multi-figure Regionalist works in tempera and oil akin to the works of his master.

Medearis’ ascent in the art world was swift. After two years of schooling under Benton, in the summer of 1940, at the age of twenty, Medearis attempted his first major painting, “Breaking Ground at Bethel” (formerly in the collection of Himan Brown, New York), a genre painting featuring over twenty figures that depicted the groundbreaking of a country church. Benton was so impressed with this painting that he quickly had it added to an upcoming exhibition of the work of his more senior students to be held at the venerable Associated American Artists gallery in New York. What followed was a decade-long period of activity and sales in the New York art world, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Benton.

Now under Benton’s wing, Medearis painted a number of striking Regionalist paintings, oftentimes using Benton’s studio. With Benton’s art world connections, Medearis found easy entry into New York, where he enjoyed a growing reputation as a notable exponent of Regionalism. After the outbreak of World War II, Medearis left Kansas City for New York in 1942, but he remained close with Benton, the two men keeping in close correspondence and visiting each other regularly. By 1950, however, with abstraction achieving a dominant position in the contemporary art world, Medearis decided to leave behind his career as an artist, and instead became a salesman for Container Corporation of America. Though he was successful in the business world, at Benton’s behest Medearis eventually returned to painting in 1966, though without the same vigor or incisive perception of Midwestern life as he had in his youth.

“Saying Grace,” painted in 1941, is a humorous work that dates from the artist’s student days in Kansas City, when his career was in meteoric ascent. Medearis depicts an elderly couple in a meager Midwestern interior, seated before a simple meal of hot soup and saltine crackers. The threadbare existence of their lives is seen in the jury-rigged repair made to the man’s chair and in the rough wooden bench upon which his uncomfortably wife sits. She has already started on her dinner without saying grace and has been interrupted by the stern admonishments of her husband; he remonstrates her with a passage from the Bible as she now looks down in shame, still clutching her spoon. The scruffy cat below, comically sharing the same soup as the humans, leans against the bench impatiently, waiting for the sermon to end before eating. Even the tiny mouse at left, who has just emerged from the hole in the baseboard, clasps his hands together in prayer in anticipation of the cracker thrown to him out of the generosity of his hosts. Medearis makes light of the man’s piety and moral rectitude with the folksy sign at upper right that reads “My help comes from the Lord.”

The subject of “Saying Grace” is very much in line with the oftentimes cheeky humor of Regionalist painters, who gently send up the lifestyles of their Midwestern subjects for consumption among New York collectors. “Saying Grace” is an iconic work by one of Regionalism’s most interesting artists, who until recently was little known because his best works were in private hands. Now that works like this one are coming back into circulation, Roger Medearis’ reputation will likely return to the level he had achieved in the 1940s.
Styles / Movements Realism
Dealer Reference Number APG 8805.002
Incollect Reference Number 109840
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