Press Releases

Date of Release: 
Thursday, May 14, 2015
Contact Info: 

Erika Monroe-Kane, Director of Communications
608.257.0158 x 237 or

Wisconsin Pastorale: The Early Paintings of Lois Ireland

Wisconsin Pastorale: The Early Paintings of Lois Ireland

On View June 6, 2015 through July 19, 2015

Opening Reception, June 5 from 6 to 9 pm

MADISON, WI—A confident line and deft handling of color distinguish the work of Lois Ireland, an artist who embraced the major revival of Realism during the 1930s. Discovered by John Steuart Curry when she was just a young teen, Ireland was a child prodigy, creating moving works of art before she was out of high school.

In 1936, John Steuart Curry, the great American regionalist painter, was appointed artist-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He was hired by the College of Agriculture to mentor largely self-taught artists from the countryside around Madison in the newly formed Wisconsin Rural Art Program (WRAP). The star pupil of the WRAP was Lois Ireland, a young girl from Waunakee whose paintings were discovered in 1942 by Curry in a steakhouse north of the city. Ireland was fourteen years old at the time, and through the 1940s into the early 1950s she would produce a luminous and poignant body of work. Wisconsin Pastorale: The Early Paintings of Lois Ireland, in recognition of her youthful genius, presents over twenty of Ireland’s paintings from this period.


Under Curry’s mentorship, Ireland found her own distinctive voice as a painter of Wisconsin landscapes. Known in the United States as American Regionalism, this revival of Realism echoed similar developments in Europe that celebrated national identity and offered the beauty and simplicity of the countryside as an antidote to the rigors of the modern age. From the start, her style possessed a kind of freshness typically associated with folk and naïve art in its visual simplicity and wonderful sense of color. Her subject is the rural countryside and its seasonal calendar, whose bucolic character she lyrically celebrates.

After graduating from high school, she entered the department of art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Two years later she left Madison to enroll in the famous Art Students League in New York, eventually returning to Waunakee where she resumed painting in her old bedroom studio of her parents’ home. By the time she turned twenty-four, Ireland had created a significant body of paintings that reflect the art of the American Scene in the 1930s and 40s. She mastered the regionalist idiom she first encountered in Curry’s work and admired in the paintings of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton, the latter whose art especially influenced her.


Wisconsin Pastorale: The Early Paintings of Lois Ireland will be on view through July 19, 2015. Generous funding has been provided by Dan and Natalie Erdman; MillerCoors; Dane Arts; the Terry Family Foundation; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.


Housed in a soaring, Cesar Pelli designed building, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art provides free exhibitions and education programs that engage people in modern and contemporary art. The galleries offer changing exhibitions that feature established and emerging artists. The Rooftop Sculpture Garden provides an urban oasis with an incredible view. The museum is open: Tuesday–Thursday: noon – 5pm; Friday: noon – 8pm; Saturday: 10am – 8pm; Sunday: noon – 5pm; and is closed on Mondays. 

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