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John Steuart Curry

Updated on October 6, 2014

John Steuart Curry: A Great American Painter

I became a fan of John Steuart Curry when I saw his painting, "Parade to War," in a book. The painting depicts soldiers marching off to war, among the gaiety of streamers floating and flags flying. The soldier's faces, nothing more than skulls, are an eerie premonition of what's to come, as an old woman hunches over, crying into her handkerchief--a grim indication of the aftermath of war.

Since then, I have added more John Steuart Curry paintings to my list of favorites; however, "Parade to War" will always remain number one on the list.

I like the drama and excitement which exudes from Curry's works, and the way his compositions draw you into the story.

"Self Portrait" by John Steuart Curry (1927--29)

This is one of a small number of self portraits done by Curry, and, interestingly, the entire image is painted as a reflection in a mirror.

"Baptism in Kansas" by John Steuart Curry (1928)

Inspired by Curry's fond childhood memories in his hometown of Kansas, this painting was rejected by the very people Curry sought to represent in this painting (they accepted it many years later). The people of Kansas felt that Curry was making fun of them by his depiction of a "stereotypical" country baptism scene. New York Audiences, however, found its quaint simplicity charming.

"State Fair" by John Steuart Curry (1929)

This painting, as well as other circus- and fair-related paintings and sketches, was inspired by Curry's New England tour with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, as well as his frequent attendance at rural county fairs.

"The Clown" by John Steuart Curry

Another painting inspired by Curry's New England tour with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, "The Clown" was painted in oil on 16- by 12-inch masonite.

"Tornado Over Kansas" by John Steuart Curry (1929)

The people of Kansas once again voiced their disapproval of Curry's depiction of life in Kansas; this time over a tornado scene. It seemed that they were fed up with the stereotypical image of Kansas as a state fraught with whirling tornadoes!

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"My Mother and Father" by John Steuart Curry (1929)

A fond tribute to Curry's parents, this painting was created in oil on a 30- by 36-inch canvas.

"The Mississippi" by John Steuart Curry (1935)

In this emotionally-charged scene, inspired by many years of observing natural disasters in his home state of Kansas, Curry illustrates one of his favorite themes: man against nature.

"Ajax" by John Steuart Curry (1936--1937)

This painting, which is housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is 36 1/4- by 48 1/4-inch oil on canvas.

Here it is--the painting that piqued my interest in this amazing American painter!

"Parade to War" by John Steuart Curry (1938)

This is the painting that made me a John Steuart Curry fan. It had a huge impact on me, and is one of my favorite paintings in the history of art.

"Tragic Prelude" by John Steuart Curry (1937--42)

This thirty-one foot by eleven-and-a-half foot mural, a depiction of abolitionist John Brown, hangs in the east wing of the Kansas State Capitol.

"Landscape With Grouse" by John Steuart Curry

"Portrait of Stanley Young" by John Steuart Curry (1932)

Stanley Young was a playwright, author, and literary critic for the New York Times (1940s--1950s). This sympathetic portrait of him, a representation of the struggling artist, is portrayed with both humor and sincerity.

John Steuart Curry: The Artist

John Steuart Curry is a prime example of the imagination, innovation, and vision projected by the Regionalist school of painting. Curry painted what he knew best--rural scenes, natural disasters, and man's conflicts--both inward and outward.

Unfortunately, it took years before his beloved Kansas truly appreciated what he stood for. In the beginning, Curry's nostaligc representations of Kansas rural life were misinterpreted as a means of ridiculing Kansas natives and customs, which could not have been further from the truth.

Curry, unbelieveably, is the least known of the "Regionalist three," which also includes Grant Wood, and Thomas Hart Benton. Hopefully, this lens will bring credit where credit is due.

Curry died in 1946 at the much-too-young age of forty-nine. Just think what future works could have been in store had he lived to a ripe old age.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      Wonderful paintings, this has been a delight for the eyes.

    • kerbev profile image

      kab 7 years ago from Upstate, NY

      I'm not familiar with his work. The soldiers look like skeletons in his Parade to War.

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      julieannbrady 8 years ago

      You know, I feel a lot of emotion in his paintings!