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Art History - November 16, 2012

Q: One hundred and fifteen years ago this week (Wednesday, November 14), painter John Steuart Curry was born in Jefferson County, Kan. His most famous mural - which he refused to sign - is on display at the Kansas Statehouse. What’s the name of this iconic mural, featuring abolitionist John Brown holding a bible in one hand and a rifle in the other?

Tragic-Prelude KHS
A view of the "Tragic Prelude" mural by John Steuart Curry featuring abolitionist John Brown. The mural is on the south wall of the east wing of the Kansas statehouse, second floor, and is 11' 6" tall by 31 feet long. It was painted with oil and egg tempura paint. It was commissioned and painted from 1937-1942. (Photo Courtesy of Kansas Historical Society /

A: “Tragic Prelude”

John-Steuart-Curry-Self-Portrait Flickr_Smithsonian-American-Art-MuseumJohn-Steuart-Curry-Sketch KHSJohn Steuart Curry was born on Nov. 14, 1897, in Jefferson County, Kan. In the first half of the 20th century, Curry became one of the great painters of American Regionalism. He was hired to paint murals inside the Kansas Statehouse but, for a variety of reasons, his artwork created controversy. Initially, it was poorly received by lawmakers and the public. Consequently, he refused to sign his work. His most iconic mural is titled “Tragic Prelude” and depicts abolitionist John Brown holding a bible in one hand and a rifle in the other. As Brown towers above the dead union and confederate soldiers at his feet, a tornado spins in the background, foreshadowing the coming Civil War. Curry died in 1946, at the age of 48.


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