Was Madison Landscape imaginary or real?

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John Steuart Curry, The Tragic Prelude John Steuart Curry was the University of Wisconsin’s artist in residence when he finished this controversial mural of John Brown for the Kansas state capitol. The same year (1941), Curry painted Madison Landscape, now on view at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art‘s Apple Pie exhibition.

Amazingly, Curry’s perspective in Madison Landscape is almost exactly as if he set his easel on Dead Lake Ridge, the 80-foot moraine above Monona Bay that appears in our blog banner. The ridge (covered with effigy mounds) was quarried for sand and gravel and disappeared by about 1915.

Though Curry arrived in Madison 20 years later, he might have heard about Dead Lake Ridge and tried to recreate it in Madison Landscape. Then I found his artist’s statement: “… a view of Madison and Lake Mendota seen from a hypothetical hill.” So it’s just coincidence: to show off Madison’s isthmus, Curry invented a high point at the same location as the old dividing ridge.

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