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John Steuart Curry

American Painter

John Steuart Curry Photo

Born: November 14th, 1897 - Dunavant, Kansas, USA

Died: August 29th, 1946 - Madison, Wisconsin, USA

"Instead of grain and feed calendars in our house...we had Rubens, Bellini and Millet. That was unusual and had a great deal to do with forming my future"

John Steuart Curry Signature

Summary of John Steuart Curry

During the Great Depression, John Steuart Curry devoted himself to painting sincere portrayals of the American heartland. At a time when critics were calling for an American vernacular art and the discovery of a usable past, Curry and other Regionalist artists headed the call to paint rural and small town America. These often idealized, even nostalgic, depictions of community, religious life, and indomitable work ethic aimed to provide solace to a populace suffering the effects of a financial disaster and widespread drought.

Recognized during his own time, along with Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Curry painted easel paintings as well as murals that decorated various government buildings. Unfortunately his more traditional style of painting did not sustain his reputation after his death, and Curry remains an often overlooked American painter.

Key Ideas

In using allusions to Classical and Renaissance art, Curry imbued his subjects with a gravitas and importance that other depictions of rural life often lacked. He aimed to create timeless narratives that evoked moral authority and would inspire the people.
While Curry typically depicted bucolic scenes, many of them have a questioning, even sinister, quality about them that adds a complexity to otherwise straightforward depictions, but which led some to criticize him for misrepresenting folks in small Midwestern towns. This disquieting aspect of his work, though, might be seen as a commentary on rural American life and as a more multidimensional take on Regionalism's preferred subjects.
Criticized for his technical awkwardness and not producing a stronger, identifiable style, Curry nevertheless gave vision to an expressive regionalism that often embodied the dynamism and spirit of rural communities.
John Steuart Curry Photo

In 1897, John Steuart Curry was born on a farm in the unincorporated community of Dunavant, Jefferson County, Kansas. According to a 1910 census, the town had a population of 85. He was the eldest child of Thomas Smith Curry and Margaret Stueart, both of whom were raised on mid-western farms but had been college educated. While the young painter would often do farm-work for several hours before heading into town for school, he could just as often be found in the fields sketching horses and buildings instead of shovelling manure.

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