Tragic Prelude

9 11 2006

Tragic Prelude

It dawned on me that some readers may not be familiar with the artwork parodied by Free State Brewing Co. on their T-shirts and included in my post To Purge This Land With Beer.  Above is the original artwork by John Steuart Curry, The Tragic Prelude, one of two murals he painted for the Kansas Statehouse in Topeka.  I got this image on the Famous Trials website.

Curry was born in Kansas in 1897, and eventually became a well respected resident of the Westport, CT art colony.  With Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, Curry established the US style of art that became known as regionalism.  Signature pieces of the three artists are Baptism in Kansas (Curry), Boomtown (Benton), and the iconic American Gothic (Wood).

In 1937, despite the fact that his work had never been well received in Kansas, at the instigation of several powerful newspapermen Curry was commissioned to cover the statehouse walls with paintings depicting the history of the state.  As work progressed, critics felt the murals (The Tragic Prelude and Kansas Pastorale) did not show the state in a favorable light, focusing on its troubled past and the difficulty of life on the prairies.  The Kansas Council of Women protested “The murals do not portray the true Kansas. Rather than revealing a law-abiding progressive state, the artist has emphasized the freaks in its history – the tornadoes, and John Brown, who did not follow legal procedure.” In 1941, after the completion of the panels in the second floor hallways but before work began in the rotunda (this was to focus on the dangers of poor soil management), the state legislature ordered work halted.  Curry was so outraged that he left the state never to return.  He never signed the paintings, and died in 1946.  Today the paintings are considered masterpieces. 

In 1991, the Kansas Senate issued a resolution which officially recognized the legislature’s poor treatment of one of the state’s most famous sons.  More here.

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15 responses

10 11 2006
Pat

A large framed print of this mural hangs over my desk. I’ve studied the Curry murals on trips to the statehouse since I was a young girl, always very taken with the vivid colors used in the amazing displays of American Regionalism. When I saw the John Brown T-shirt blog entry the other day I actually spent some time Googling for imagery and info on the mural which I’d intended to send you. Then I backed off thinking others might not be as interested in the artwork as yours truly. This Art major from the Sunflower State appreciates the inclusion of John Steuart Curry’s work on your blog. ;)

BTW I think the theme for the site works well IMO. Easy to read and navigate.

Pat

28 03 2014
Lisa

Where did you get your large framed print of this mural? I cannot seem to find one online that is in color…only black and white. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks!

10 11 2006
Harry Smeltzer

Pat,

Don’t ever hesitate to send me info. That’s what the comment feature is for, and it’s a big, big part of why I’m doing this blog!

BTW, how did I do with my summary of Curry and the mural? Google is god, albeit with a small “g”.

Harry

9 04 2007
Jake

What does the horseshoe symbol mean that is on a page in the book he is holding?

9 04 2007
Harry Smeltzer

Jake,

I have no idea.

Harry

8 12 2007
Ryan

It’s not a horseshoe, it’s the Greek letter Omega. The symbol for Alpha is on the other page. Alpha and Omega, meaning God. The book that John Brown is holding is the Bible.

8 12 2007
Harry Smeltzer

Ryan,

That’s what I think, too. However, I can’t figure out why the Alpha is sideways.

11 05 2010
bryan

it means the begining and the end. alpha is begining, omega is the end

11 05 2010
Harry Smeltzer

Yes, it does. In context, I think it is beginning and end as in “I am the beginning and the end” – that is, God, as Ryan said.

14 05 2010
Chris Evans

This great painting also made an excellent album cover for the band ‘Kansas’ on their self titled 1974 debut.
Chris

12 01 2012
WMA

Where can I find a copy of that painting? I checked the Kansas State Historical Society, but they are “out of stock.” I may have to commission a painted version, but even a print would be cool. I love that mural. Very powerful.

12 01 2012
Harry Smeltzer

I really don’t know where you might be able to find one. Did you Google it? A quick look turned up this: http://www.posterrevolution.com/gallery/item.cfm?ID=625946&class=1001&gclid=CPTax5Why60CFcfe4AodsE1QiA

16 01 2012
WMA

Thanks for the reply Harry. Yes, I did some googling for it. All I could find were several sites selling that black & white version. I’m looking for a full color version. I’m surprised it is this hard to find.

30 03 2014
cruise ships

When I initially commented I seem to have clicked the
-Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox
and now each time a comment is added I receive four emails with
the same comment. Is there an easy method you can remove me from that service?
Thanks a lot!

30 03 2014
Harry Smeltzer

Click “unfollow” at the top of the page, to the left.

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