More than 100 pieces of art by the late Kansas City artist Thomas Hart Benton have been lost from an estate mismanaged by UMB Bank, according to a lawsuit filed in probate court by his family.
The lawsuit claims UMB Bank never completed a comprehensive inventory with descriptions and photographs of each piece of art and lost track of artwork it sold in batches that did not describe each piece or its individual sales price. It also contends that the lack of adequate preservation and storage measures have damaged some of Benton’s artwork.
The family’s petition, filed in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, also alleges that the bank sold some artwork below market value and engaged in self-dealing by using the artwork and property “as if it were its own.” The bank hung the artwork at its various locations and used it in its advertising and at charitable events to promote the bank and its position as trustee of the estate.
The lawsuit was filed by Benton’s daughter, Jessie Benton, her son Anthony Gude and her daughters Daria Lyman and Cybele Benton McCormick. It seeks the removal UMB Bank as trustee of the Benton trusts and unspecified damages for the alleged breach of trust. It also seeks a court order voiding all sales of the trust’s property entered into without authority of the family.
UMB Bank president and chief executive Jim Rine told the Kansas City Star in a statement while the bank would like to address the claims publicly, its policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
“Despite our extensive efforts to address issues presented, the Benton family and its representatives have chosen to resolve alleged issues through litigation,” Rine said. “We take our role as a trustee for art and other assets seriously and will directly address and defend the misguided allegations made in the lawsuit. We look forward to this matter being resolved as quickly and fairly as possible.”
Thomas Hart Benton died in Kansas City, Missouri, on Jan. 19, 1975, and his wife Rita, died just a few months later. UMB has served as trustee of the Benton trusts since 1979.
Benton is known for his portrayals of Midwestern life in the 20th century. His paintings and murals are in museum across the United States, including the Metropolitcan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.,, the Truman Presidential Library and the Missouri State Capital Building.