- Also known as
primary name: Spruance, Benton Murdoch
- individual; painter/draughtsman; printmaker; American (USA); Male
- Life dates
- Born and raised in Philadelphia, Spruance trained at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts from 1925 to 1929. In 1928 he was awarded a Cresson Travelling scholarship, which took him to Paris where he learnt lithography at the Atelier Desjobert. On his return to Philadelphia he began making lithographs with the printer Theodore Cuno, a collaboration that would continue until the early 1950s. In 1930 he returned to Paris on a second Cresson Travelling Scholarship with the artist Robert Gwathmey, where he worked at Desjobert's and studied painting at André Lhote's Acadèmie Montparnasse. In 1933 he had his first solo show at the Weyhe Gallery, where Carl Zigrosser promoted contemporary American printmaking and became a lifelong friend of the artist. From 1932 Spruance had regular exhibitions with the Print Club of Philadelphia, to which he was elected to its board of directors in 1944, and his work was shown in many printmaking exhibitions across the United States.
Spruance was seen as a 'citizen-artist' by his contemporaries, who was as engaged with teaching and with improving the conditions of artists as he was with his own printmaking. From 1934 he taught at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Arts where he developed the graphic workshop. As well as teaching studio practice he also taught art history, focusing on the development of the print both in Philadelphia and at Beaver College (now called Arcadia University), where he was appointed to the chair of the Department of Fine Art in 1933, a post he held for the rest of his life. Closely involved with the artistic politics of Philadelphia, in 1949 he became a founding member of Artists Equity, a union dedicated to artists' rights. From the early 1950s Spruance participated in the urban regeneration of Philadelphia, and in 1953 he was appointed to the Philadelphia Art Commission, where, with his strong support, the ordinance of 'One Percent for Art' became law in 1959 - henceforth one percent of the budget for every new building in Philadelphia had to be spent upon public art.
Lithography was Spruance's principal printmaking technique. He made 536 lithographs out of a total oeuvre of 555 recorded prints; between 1928 and 1939 alone he produced some 177 lithographs. During this period his style varied from naturalistic portraits to a Precisionist approach of flattened and layered forms. A deliberate socially conscious agenda informs his lithographs from 1935 to the 1940s, when he began to work in a more highly charged expressionistic style and turned to wartime subjects. From the early 1950s, prompted by a need for greater technical freedom and experimentation, Spruance began to print for himself. During the 1950s and 1960s he produced colour lithographs, mostly literary or symbolic in theme, which showed a complexity in composition and colour printing technique. The Philadelphia Museum of Art holds over seventy works by Spruance in its permanent collections.
- Ruth E. Fine and Robert F. Looney, 'The Prints of Benton Murdoch Spruance. A Catalogue Raisonné',with an introduction by Ruth E. Fine, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.