Together we stood for an art whose forms and meanings would have direct and easily comprehended relevance to the American culture of which we were by blood and daily life a part. – Thomas Hart Benton
John Steuart Curry was born in Dunavant, Kansas, and after training at the Chicago Art Institute, the Kansas City Art Institute and Paris’ Academie Julian, major publications such as the Saturday Evening Post gainfully employed his talent for illustration.
Golden Horse, John Steuart Curry, 1935, Oil on board, 23.25 x 35.50 inches
Curry began drawing horses on his family’s farm as a boy, and the horse appears often in his mature art. In his attempts to render anatomy and movement, he studies not only live horses but also those rendered by the Old Masters including Eugène Delacroix, Peter Paul Rubens, and Leonardo da Vinci. The drama evoked here may connect Golden Horse to one of Curry’s illustration commissions. Curry contributed art to an edition of Mary O’Hara’s 1941 novel, My Friend Flicka, set on a horse ranch outside Cheyenne, Wyoming and its sequel Thunderhead of 1943. – Elizabeth G. Seaton, Curator, Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art, Kansas State University
While teaching at the Art Student’s League and Cooper Union in New York City, Curry rejected the impersonal quality of industrialism to favor subject matter reflective of his agrarian background. The circus spectacle that he enjoyed in the rural county fairs inspired him to tour with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, from which were borne a series of sketches, watercolors and paintings that captured the rich pageantry of carnival life.
Clowns in Dressing Tent, John Steuart Curry, 1932, Oil on masonite, 12 x 16 inches
Curry was commissioned for several mural projects: the Department of the Interior and Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. as well as the Kansas State Capitol in Topeka. Their subject matter reflected Curry’s desire to create art meaningful to the American people. His work is also installed in numerous museums, including the Whitney and Metropolitan Museums in New York.
John Brown, John Steuart Curry, 1937, Lithograph, 14.75 x 11 inches
*from the Kansas State Capitol
In the words of Harry Wickey: “One is convinced that the story Curry paint[ed] actually happened. It seems to me that this fulfills Walt Whitman’s hope and prophecy of a truly great native art growing out of American life.”