What is it?
John Steuart Curry (Kunavant, Kansas 1897–1946 Madison)
Wisconsin Farm Scene
Oil on canvas
88 13/16 x 97 in.
Lent 2013, Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin–Madison
About the Work
At a time when much of America’s population still lived on working farms or in small mid-western towns, John Steuart Curry’s paintings of rural life struck a chord with many people. They could relate to his scenes of funerals, baptisms, storms, and tornadoes. Together with Missouri’s Thomas Hart Benton and Iowa’s Grant Wood, Curry formed a trio of Regionalist artists who were acclaimed in the late 1920s and 1930s for their Realist-style interpretation of country life; their work is often regarded as the antithesis of the urban modernism that had arisen a generation earlier on the East Coast.
Curry established his reputation in his native Kansas before moving to Madison in 1936 to become artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin. It was the first such position at any university in the country, and his appointment was not without controversy. Curry had no academic background, and was not assigned teaching duties. He was not hired through the Art Department but through the auspices of the College of Agriculture with the singular goal of using his work to educate rural communities and promote state-of-the-art farming practices.
Consequently, Curry’s work during his Madison years (1936 – 46)—a particularly optimistic vision of a peaceful, fertile Wisconsin landscape—should be viewed through the lens of his sponsor. Wisconsin Farm Scene is one of three large works Curry painted for Madison’s First National Bank in 1941 featuring brilliantly colored autumnal scenes in and around the state capital. The well-ordered farms boast healthy cows, bountiful harvests, and an overall ambiance of golden-hued prosperity.