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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