Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

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preliminary scale drawing for Tragic Prelude (John Brown)
  • John Steuart Curry
    born: Dunavant, Kansas, United States ; died: Madison, Wisconsin, United States
  • preliminary scale drawing for Tragic Prelude (John Brown), circa 1939
  • Where object was made: United States
  • charcoal, crayon, graphite on paper
  • Image Dimensions Height/Width: 61.91 x 130.18 cm
    Image Dimensions Height/Width: 24 3/8 x 51 1/4 in
    Frame Dimensions: 43 x 64 3/8 x 2 1/2 in
  • Lent by KSU, Beach Museum of Art, gift of Mrs. John Steuart Curry, 1997.8
  • Not on display
  • EL2006.001
  • Loan: Not in the Spencer's collection
Label Text

Exhibition Label:
"John Steuart Curry: Agrarian Allegories," Aug-2006, Kate Meyer
Curry opens his mural cycle with scenes of early European exploration in Kansas that shift into the territorial period (1854-1861), a time described by Emporia editor William Allen White as a “tragic prelude to the tragic years to come.” The figures of Francisco Vasquez de Coronado and the Franciscan friar Juan de Padilla mark the beginning of Curry’s history of Kansas. In their quest for the seven cities of gold, Coronado and Padre Padilla traveled to Kansas almost 400 years before Curry fashioned his mural. To the left of Coronado stands the Plainsman, a slain buffalo at his feet. The three men look left toward John Brown. Brown stands in monumental scale, arms outstretched in cruciform pose, Bible in one hand, a Sharp’s rifle, or “Beecher’s Bible,” in the other. John Brown’s violent support of the free-state cause during the territorial period known as “Bleeding Kansas” contributed to the polarization of society leading to the Civil War. Union and Confederate soldiers flank Brown as covered wagons, a prairie fire, and a swirling tornado sweep westward across the tumultuous landscape.