Fine Art Tuesday

Tragic Prelude, John Steuart Curry, 1940

John Steuart Curry was a Kansas born American painter of the Regionalist school, whose rather brief career, starting in 1924, was cut short by his death from a heart attack in 1946.

While Curry has been said to be one of Kansas’ great, if not greatest, artists, he was far from universally loved in the state, in fact living the majority of his life outside Kansas. Many of his paintings illustrated things he thought to be the state’s great shortcomings, such as its propensity to severe weather, insect infestations and soil erosion. This led to poor popularity in the state that gave him birth, and is likely the primary reason he was unable to find a place in Kansas until after his death, when he was buried in Winchester, Kansas.

Curry’s work was controversial in its time. A mural, “Freeing the Slaves”, intended for the US Department of Justice building, was declined by the department, who believed “serious difficulties…might arise as a result of the racial implications of the subject matter.” The subject of his work, “Tragic Prelude” was a man seen as a lunatic traitor in Kansas, John Brown. Other works, such as “Baptism in Kansas”, were as controversial outside of Kansas as “Tragic Prelude” was in the state, although that did not stop him from achieving popularity elsewhere during his life.

That popularity did not help him in Kansas when he was commissioned to paint works for the Kansas Capital Building. Public opposition to the content of the works, including “Tragic Prelude”, caused the Kansas legislature to withdrawal permission for the works to be display at the capital. In his anger, he left Kansas, not completing other planned works beyond the sketch stage. Since his death, “Tragic Prelude” has been hung in the capital, and the sketches for the planned other works are in the custody in the Kansas Historical Society.

I’m not a fan of Curry, but I always liked the use of “Tragic Prelude” as the cover of the first Kansas album. When by accident I discovered that it was an actual work of fine art, versus being “just an album cover”, I decided to feature him here.

Note: Fine Art Tuesday was started by Eaton Rapids Joe in memory of Ol’ Remus, late proprietor of  the Woodpile Report. If you’re a blogger and are so moved, please feel free to join us with your own Fine Art Tuesday post.

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