Tuesday, December 7, 2010

WT Benda

I have always admired the work of WT Benda, his art and illustrations are so evocative of their era, he was a major influence in fashion, art and advertising throughout the Art Deco period and his masks were out of this world...

Władysław Teodor "W.T." Benda (January 15, 1873, Poznań, Poland (Posen, German Empire) - November 30, 1948, Newark, New Jersey) was a Polish-American painter, illustrator, and designer.

The son of musician Jan Szymon Benda, and a nephew of the actress Helena Modrzejewska (known in the United States as Helena Modjeska), W.T. Benda studied art at the Krakow College of Technology and Art in his native Poland and at the School of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria. He came to the United States at the very end of the 19th century, to visit his Aunt Helena, who then lived in California. He stayed, and moved to New York City in 1902, where he attended the Art Students League of New York and the William Merritt Chase School. While there, Benda studied under Robert Henri and Edward Penfield.

He joined the Society of Illustrators in 1907, the Architectural League in 1916, and became a naturalized American in 1911. He was also a member of the National Society of Mural Painters. He remained in NYC for the rest of his life. Benda married Romola Campfield, and they had two daughters, Eleanora and Baria, who were both artists.

Starting in 1905, Benda was primarily a graphic artist. He illustrated books, short stories, advertising copy, and magazine covers for Collier's, McCall's, Ladies' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Theatre Magazine and many others. Many publishers regarded Benda as their go-to artist for his dependability and artistic abilities. In his time he was as well known as Norman Rockwell, N.C. Wyeth or Maxfield Parrish. During the 1920s/1930s every publication sought the look of "the American Girl," but Benda's beautiful women were often exotic and mysterious, not homespun pretty like the girls of Harrison Fisher or Howard Chandler Christy. Benda was fiercely proud of his Polish heritage and became closely associated with the Polish-American cultural institution, The Kosciuszko Foundation.  During the two World Wars he designed many posters for both Poland and America. He was honoured with the ‘Polonia Restituta’ decoration by the Polish government following World War I.

Beginning in 1914, Benda was also an accomplished mask maker and costume designer. His sculpted, papier-mache face masks were used in plays and dances and often in his own paintings and illustrations. They were used in masques or miracle plays in New York City at venues like the New York Coffee House. Benda also created the masks for stage productions in New York and London for such writers as Eugene O'NeilNoel Coward. He became so well-known as a mask maker that his name became synonymous for any life-like mask, whether it was of his design or not. Benda also created "grotesque" masks, which were more fantasy or caricature in nature. Benda created the original mask design for the movie The Mask of Fu Manchu, which was originally published as a twelve part serial in and Collier's from May 7, 1932 through July 23, 1932. The cover of the May 7 issue presented a stunning portrait by Benda. In the latter stages of his career, Benda spent less time doing illustration and more time making masks.

October 5th 1922

Articles by and about Benda and his masks appeared regularly in many of the same magazines and publications that carried his illustrations. In the 1930s he authored the Encyclopedia Britannica entry on masks. He also wrote a book, Masks (Watson-Guptill, 1944, currently out of print), a study of his own designs and unique construction techniques. The Polish Museum of America possesses a collection of Benda's posters for the relief effort in Poland.


June 15th 1922

March 8th 1923

 Photography by Steichen, models wearing masks by WT Benda

WT Benda with a Grotesque mask, accompanied by the dancer Margaret Severn with a lifelike mask.

I would love one of his paintings.

Text Source from Wikipedia


  1. HI Dash, wonderful piece. Love learning about new artists. Love your pics down the side too. Carla

  2. I can't get over how you find these things to show us. Please don't stop.

  3. Yes, Dash, thank you! Keep up the good work! I enjoy reading your blog. Normally, I like "going back to the stuff I like or have experienced, too" thanks to your posts but today I was shocked. I am from Krakow and I had never heard about WT Benda before. I will spread the word. Thanks again, Baque

  4. Carla, I am very honoured as I love your work, I love learning about new things too, that's what life is all about!

    James, don't worry I won't stop, I enjoy it too much.

    Baque, so glad you enjoy the blog, it's amazing what you find out when you start digging about, I just love the internet! My late Maternal Grandfather was from Poland he came from a small town called Suwalki, in North Eastern Poland.

  5. I love his work, he's very underrated. I have the first picture of the girl in the gold scarf. It's a period I absolutely love. Hope you're good xx

  6. I would love to collect all the Life covers !
    I have always liked his work ..

  7. His work is lovely I love the expressions and the softness to the faces .. beautiful xx

  8. Hi Dash,
    I'm another Polish reader who is not very familiar with Benda's works. Thank you for educating us :)
    Suwałki is the coldest part of Poland but also a nice one.

  9. So would I...
    I didn´t know her until now.
    Thank you so much. Brilliant.

  10. Very beautiful and ethereal looking, I've always been interested in masks, elegant postingxx

  11. Yet again, Dash, you introduce me to someone whose work I absolutely adore! Thank you soooooo much.

    Ali x

  12. Dash another fabulous post, thank you! I love being introduced to such talented artists through your blog.
    I love the way that Benda are transcends the Edwardian, Art Nouveau and Art Deco periods.

  13. Certainly among the great illustrators and one of my favorites. Although largely forgotten by the general public his work is still admired by illustrators, comic artists and fantasy artists. Nice selection!

  14. I'm an artist, an art history major, and worked in New York as a free lance illustrator. How is it I never heard of this fabulous artist from the past...I must have been dwelling in a cave. Thanks for the visuals!

  15. Beautiful images. I'm really enjoying and learning new to me artists. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  16. Hello! Congratulations! Great work. I am writing PhD. about Benda. If you are interested pleas look at my page http://smiechowska.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/wtb/. There you will find an article (first in Polish, but in the end there is an English version). Best wishes! Ania Śm.

  17. Hiii!:-)
    Just came across this marvelous site by coincidence...
    How beautiful.I have got pretty much a similar taste for both the periods & imagery.
    I do have a website but it's down at the moment.As soon as it's up & running I will send the link.
    Here is my facebook link if you like;
    I will be following French Sampler
    Thank you


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