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Blood and Fire: Historical Society Revives WWII "National Treasures"

Immediately after stepping foot in the "Perilous Visions" exhibition, you're caught off guard by the dark annals of world history.

But you're also captivated by the destruction that Missouri's best-known painter depicted on canvas during World War II.

Ten paintings by Neosho-born Thomas Hart Benton are on display as a set for the first time in nearly two decades at the State Historical Society of Missouri in its MU Ellis Library headquarters. The exhibition is comprised of the eight-painting "Year of Peril" series and two others.

Benton (1889-1975) painted with emotion, and the "Year of Peril" elicits fear, paranoia and grief. The collection will be on permanent display once the society moves into its new home, the Center for Missouri Studies, at Seventh and Elm streets across from Peace Park.

Art 'must have some significance'

Benton was spurred to paint the bloody, fire-themed war collection while giving a lecture in Cincinnati on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, Dec. 7, 1941. The artist dashed from the podium and spent the next six weeks in his studio to create the paintings, as was recounted in a December 1998 Columbia Daily Tribune feature.

Chicago-based pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories purchased eight of the paintings from Benton in 1942. The company had intended to donate the paintings to the federal government, but the government decided not to take them. That led Abbott Laboratories to give them to the State Historical Society, curator Joan Stack said. 

To view the entire story, visit columbiamissourian.com.