Historic Artist’s Family Accuses Bank Of Mismanaging Assets at $85M+ Probate Trial

Posted by David Siegel on Feb 8, 2023 2:33:33 PM

benton openings PL

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney J. Kent Emison delivering his opening statement 

Kansas City, MO - The family of renowned 20th century painter Thomas Hart Benton took UMB Financial Corporation to trial on Monday in Missouri state court over allegations the bank cost the artist’s trust millions by selling artwork to executives and customers at below-market rates, and the full trial is being webcast gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

Attorney Bob Langdon of Langdon & Emison said the Benton family would seek up to $85 million dollars in appreciated damages plus unspecified punitive damages. During his opening statement before Judge Mark Styles, who will hear the case without a jury, Langdon’s co-counsel J. Kent Emison detailed alleged mismanagement of the Benton estate dating back to the 1970’s and including art sales to prominent buyers including the Kansas City Chiefs and former U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill.

UMB argued to Judge Styles the bank complied with all professional and ethical standards in managing the Benton estate, dismissing claims the bank supposedly failed to adequately protect Benton’s intellectual property rights as “speculative” and maintaining that sales of Benton’s works complied with industry-standard practices.

The lengthy trial, which will take weeks to complete and give the public a rare glimpse into the inner workings of high-value art transactions, is being streamed in full both live and on-demand by CVN.

Thomas Hart Benton, whose distinctive paintings and murals showcasing Midwestern American scenes can be found in museums and government buildings throughout the country, died in 1975 following a lengthy career that landed him on the cover of Time Magazine in 1934. However after becoming co-trustee of the Benton trust in 1979, the bank - which Benton’s attorneys maintained had no expertise in managing high-value art assets - declined to retain the necessary experts to do a detailed inventory or appraisal process.

Instead, UMB supposedly repeatedly sold off pieces for substantially below market value at the urging of former UMB chairman R. Crosby Kemper Jr. The bank also allegedly failed to properly monetize Benton’s intellectual property through adequate copyrights and licensing, which the Benton family argues robbed the trust of substantial value.

UMB, represented by Kansas City-based powerhouse firm Shook Hardy & Bacon, pushed back strongly against the allegations. Partner Todd Ruskamp argued during his opening statement that that claims involving art sales must be considered on a “transaction by transaction” basis.

Benton openings D

CVN screenshot of defense attorney Todd Ruskamp delivering his opening statement

He told Judge Styles that the Benton family was substantially involved in decisions involving art sales, and that while those transactions inherently involve a wide range of subjective judgments, that testimony in the coming weeks would prove that the bank’s actions met the standard of care for a trustee in its position.

CVN’s gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial will continue for the duration of the proceedings.

The case is captioned Benton v. UMB Bank, case number 19P8-PR01534 in Missouri’s 16th Circuit Court in Jackson County.

E-mail David Siegel at

Topics: Missouri