John Steuart Curry (1897–1946), Sanctuary Posted on July 21st, 2014 by

SanctuaryJohn Steuart Curry (1897–1946)
Sanctuary, 1944
Lithograph on paper, 11 5⁄8 x 15 3⁄4 inches
Purchased with funds donated by Dawn and Edward Michael

Curry, from Kansas, was recognized as one of the nation’s three primary Regionalist artists, and many of his works relate to his experiences in his home state, such as this image that is based on drawings the artist made in 1929 while observing floods in the Kaw River Valley near Lawrence. Among the works related to this lithograph is a drawing from 1933, a watercolor (in the Butler Institute of American Art) from c. 1936, and an oil painting (in the Museum of American Art, Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts) from 1935. There also exist composition sketches done in 1944 before making the image into this lithograph, which is reversed from the other works. Curry’s work not only draws from floods he witnessed, but also has clear echoes of the Biblical Flood, including in the artist’s pairing of some of the animals, such as the pigs and the equines (though one is a horse, the other a donkey), who have sought refuge from the rising waters on the small hillock on which they crowd. Curry may have been influenced by Michelangelo’s famous image of the flood in the Sistine Chapel, which also features crowds (of people) vying for space on remaining bits of dry land, a prominent tree at the side, and an architectural structure in the background (in Michelangelo’s fresco, it is the ark, which looks more like a building than a sailing vessel). Curry had studied the Renaissance master’s works in reproductions, and influences from Sistine Chapel imagery have been noted in his paintings, while his depictions of Kansas abolitionist John Brown (including in a 1939 lithograph, an example of which is in the Hillstrom Collection) were influenced by Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of Moses, carved for the tomb of Pope Julius II, in the Church of San Pietro in Vincoli, Rome, which Curry traveled to Rome in 1938 to see.

Text from the catalogue for the exhibition The Eight, The Ashcan School, and The American Scene in the Hillstrom Collection, presented in the Hillstrom Museum of Art February 25 through April 21, 2013.


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