John Steuart Curry MMoCA Art On Tour

Madison Landscape

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John Steuart Curry, Madison Landscape, oil and tempera on canvas, 1941.
John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood at the Stone City Art Colony, July, 1933. Photograph by John Barry. Courtesy of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

John Steuart Curry, the celebrated American Scene painter, taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 1936 until his death in 1946. While artist-in-residence, he was given commissions by the university and continued his own personal projects. Madison Landscape is a portrait of Wisconsin's state capital. Seen from a high point overlooking the city, the white marble, gold-domed Capitol building is the focus of the landscape. It sits on a hill at the midpoint of an isthmus that connects Lakes Mendota and Monona. In the distance are the softly rolling hills of the countryside, washed in the colors of autumn that also tinge the leaves of the two trees that bracket Curry's composition.

Although Curry works in a realist style, he takes liberties with nature. There is no hill quite so high in Madison. With the two foreground trees and hill slope, and with the branches and leaves of the tree to the right that overlap the white cumulus clouds, Curry frames Madison with nature. This may explain why the city and capitol building are so small relative to its setting. Curry connects humanity to the natural scheme of things–trees, lakes, beautiful sky, nurturing landscape, and the change of seasons–that embraces and protects a citadel for the noble seats of democratic government and learning.