Rainey Bennett

b. 1907, Marion, IN - d. 1998, Chicago, IL

Rainey Bennett was a prolific artist and illustrator, known primarily for his work in watercolor. According to a Time magazine article of 1940, he was a high school cartoonist in Oak Park, Illinois, and earned his way through college playing tenor banjo in a jazz band. He graduated from the University of Chicago in 1929, and studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and the Art Students League in New York, with German émigré artist George Grosz. Bennett taught at the Art Institute in the late 1930s, and again in the 1960s.

Bennett’s Untitled (Abstract landscape) is typical of the artist’s virtuoso handling of the watercolor medium. Showing a landscape inspired by his travels in South America, Bennett created a scene in which the lush and striking flora completely overwhelms the tiny figures—as if it was an illustration for a fairy tale, or a sketch for spectacularly imagined theatrical production. The background is laid down in liquid, atmospheric washes, while the flowers and “trees” in the foreground are deposited with a higher concentration of vibrant, contrasting, and high-key pigments.

From 1935 to 1938, Bennett directed the Illinois Art Project’s extensive mural, stained glass, and mosaic decoration at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago. His own mural commissions for the Treasury Section Art Project include post offices in Rushville and Naperville, Illinois and Dearborn, Michigan. In 1940, his watercolors of Venezuela, commissioned by Standard Oil of New Jersey, were shown at the prestigious Downtown Gallery in New York. After the World War II, Bennett became a highly successful commercial artist and illustrator, as well as a celebrated children’s book author.

Daniel Schulman


Gray, Mary Lackritz. A Guide to Chicago’s Murals. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Sokol, David. Rainey Bennett. Exh. cat. Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago Circle, 1979.

Works by Rainey Bennett