Circus Elephants and more art by John Steuart Curry

Circus Elephants, 1936
22 x 32 cm (h x w)
Lithograph on paper
not for sale
[Des Moines Art Center Permanent Collections; Gift of the Des Moines Art Center Print Club, 1983.6]

(Gift Print, 1983)

Born in Kansas, John Steuart Curry studied art in Kansas City, Chicago, and in France. He worked in New York as an illustrator. Becoming convinced of the necessity of painting from his childhood experiences, Curry turned to Midwest subject matter. He cultivated a style that seemed artless but was based on keen observation, and in which form and subject matter achieve a remarkable unity. Curry became one of the leading figures of the American Regionalist movement of the 1930s. In comparison to his fellow Regionalists Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, Curry’s art seems less stylized and more naturalistic.
For three months in 1932, Curry traveled with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. That year, he painted eight elephants and a zebra under a tent of a traveling circus (National Gallery of Art). His black-and-white lithograph of 1936, Circus Elephants, reprises the earlier painting. The lithograph is an image of contrasts. The wriggling lines of the trunks contrast with the straight lines of the poles supporting the tent. Curry himself spoke of the bulk of the elephants and their tiny, beady eyes. This lithograph is one of ten that Curry created for the New York print publisher, Associated American Artists, known as AAA. This group had a vision of prints as a democratic medium for the people. From their stable of about 60 artists, they commissioned editions of 250 unsigned, un-numbered prints that sold for $5 apiece.

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