Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

San Francisco, California

(415) 750-3600



John Steuart Curry: Inventing the Middle West,

at the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum

13 June - 30 August 1998


John Steuart Curry was, with Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, one of the three leading painters identified as Regionalists and known today for their canvases celebrating the rural Midwest. Although he created paintings that are America's art icons, Curry has never before received scholarly attention, and this is the first comprehensive exhibition of Curry's work in more than 25 years.

Self Portrait, 1937, oil on canvas, 30 x 24 inches

This 1998 show of 35 oil paintings and 10 drawings includes all of the artist's best known paintings, such as his famous Baptism in Kansas, 1928, from the Whitney Museum of Art, and his John Brown of 1937, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Also featured is the Fine Arts Museums' recent acquisition, Curry's 1937 Self-Portrait, acquired in 1996 with the gift of Mr. and Mrs. J. Burgess Jamieson.

Regionalist painting had three major exponents: Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry. With these two artists Curry led the movement to create and celebrate what he felt was an indigenous and democratic American art - Regionalism - in a reaction against European modernist trends. While the works of Benton and Wood have received a great deal of scholarly and public attention, Curry's work has historically been overlooked. John Steuart Curry: Inventing the Middle West is the first comprehensive exhibition of Curry's work in over 25 years. In this exhibition Patricia Junker, Associate Curator of American Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, reintroduces audiences to Curry's finest paintings and evaluates Curry's position in American art history.

Although Curry's career spanned only two decades - from 1924, when he first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in New York, to his death in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1946 - Curry produced paintings that stand today as American cultural icons. Despite Curry's successes in the 1930s, his many memorable paintings now in museum collections, and a few notable efforts made in recent years to bring his work once again to public attention, he has never before received broad scholarly attention.


The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne, 1928-40, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches


Curry developed as a painter during the period defined by the Great Depression and America's entry into World War II, a time of great social upheaval. Through these two decades of dramatic change, Curry appeared to struggle to find meaning in religious faith. He confronted challenges of modern life in subjects ranging from religious fanaticism to bigotry to environmental destruction to war, exposing the real danger posed by the self-righteous. His development came amidst sometimes bitter national and intemational debate on the appropriate language for a modern art, realism or abstraction.

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rev. 11/26/10

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