Artwork Information

  • Title:

    Lightning and Thunder over New Mexico

  • Artist:

    Lantz, Paul

  • Artist Bio:

    American, 1908–2000

  • Date:

    1938

  • Medium:

    Oil on canvas

  • Dimensions:

    24 x 32 1/8 inches

  • Credit Line:

    Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum

  • Object Number:

    1980.66

  • Display:

    Currently on Display


About the Artwork

Paul Lantz

American, 1908–2000

Lightning and Thunder over New Mexico, 1938

Oil on canvas

Wichita Art Museum, Museum purchase, Friends of the Wichita Art Museum

1980.66

Much of the realist painting executed in America dur­ing the 1930s and early 1940s was concerned with recording familiar scenes and events in everyday con­temporary life. But just as the mode of life differed in the many regions of the nation, so the styles and idioms employed differed throughout the various regions. As a result, many of the artists—especially those in the more rural sections of the Midwest—were often known as regionalist painters of the American scene.

This was the period between the crash of 1929 and America’s entry into World War II in 1941, a period marked by economic depression and in many instances by a spirited nationalism. It was one which searched for an answer to the question “What is America?”, and it produced an art with a social purpose, generally opposed to contemporary currents from abroad. This was also a period when a whole generation of young American artists—many influenced by such notables as Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood and John Steuart Curry— reached professional maturity just at the outbreak of war. Many entered the armed services. But once the war was over, the popularity of the American Scene had waned, for advancing internationalism accompanied by a growing interest in the more abstract avant-garde movements rendered the nationalist focus of the 1930s provincial and outdated. Many of the artists of the 1930s generation then turned to teaching, or to commer­cial art and book illustrating, and many others entered new and unrelated careers. Today, most of their works have been forgotten entirely.

One of those artists was Paul Lantz who painted primarily in New Mexico. Lightning and Thunder over New Mexico, ex­ecuted in 1938, was one of his well-known works. The scene of course, is a panoramic view of a New Mexico ranch located at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Here a bolt of lightning brightens the clouds and accents the rugged mountain slopes and various features of the dark landscape below. And a gusty wind blows violently across the lowlands and through the trees. Forms are stylized but highly expressive and demonstrate a primitive quality, which reflects the growing nationalist interest during the 1930s in early American primitives. One interesting feature is the emphasis on the neatly cultivated strip of green farm land, centrally placed in the composition and serving as a comment on the high esteem for the American farm during a period that had experienced deprivation, the need for farm relief, and which lived with bitter memories of the dust bowl days.

Paul Lantz was born in 1908 in Stromburg, Nebraska. At the age of 15 he enrolled as a student in the Kansas City Art Institute. In 1925, he traveled to New York and studied at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League. When the depres­sion came in 1929, he was forced to leave New York and settled in Santa Fe where he eventually gained recogni­tion as a painter of murals. In 1940, he returned to New York and staged a successful one-man show at the 460 Park Avenue Gallery. In 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Following the war, he taught briefly in Kansas City and San Francisco but finally settled on a ranch in Springer, New Mexico.