• Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"

    Main Panel, "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research" / Photo: Robin Davies

  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"

    Northwest Panel, "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research" / Photo: Robin Davies

  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"

    Southwest Panel, "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research" / Photo: Robin Davies

  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"

    Preliminary drawing, "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research" / Photo: Robin Davies

  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"

    Detail, Preliminary drawing / Photo: Robin Davies

  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"
  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"
  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"
  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"
  • Image of John Steuart Curry's artwork "The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research"

John Steuart Curry

The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research

1941-43
Oil and tempera on canvas
Three panels: 9 ft. x 14 ft. x 4 in.; 9 ft. x 4 ft. x 7 in.; 9 ft. x 4 ft. x 7 in.
Commissioned with support from The Brittingham Fund—The University of Wisconsin Trust

John Steuart Curry’s didactic three-panel painting demonstrates the health benefits of innovations in biochemistry. Each panel is rich with figures from middle American farm life. Curry uses strong directional light to distinguish the healthy from the sick. Toward the left of the central panel, a family suffering from pellagra and nutritional deficiencies cowers in the shadows. By the edge of the darkness a doctor approaches a young child with rickets and begins to bring him back into the light. Two opposite panels similarly use diagonal rays of light to contrast ailing with thriving flora and fauna. Located in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s historic Hector F. DeLuca Biochemistry Building, Curry’s painting reminds viewers of the university’s important contributions to everyday life.

Curry painted The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research during his ten-year residency (1936-1946) at UW-Madison. The first such university based residency of its kind, this program attempted to inspire artistic production amongst the state’s rural communities. The rural art program dovetailed with the “Wisconsin Idea,” the principle that the university should foster social, intellectual, and economic development across the state through teaching, research, outreach, and public service. Curry subsequently became an important connection between campus and community.

John Steuart Curry is one of the three most important American Regionalist painters of the 1930s along with Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. Raised on a farm near Dunavant, Kansas, Curry gained recognition with paintings that depicted the people and landscape of the Middle West. As a pictorial storyteller he promoted populist ideologies in his many paintings, prints, and murals.

In an adjacent locked seminar room are additional murals by Curry. Images of the room can be found here and here (photos by Robin Davies).

Directions

The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research is located in the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemistry Building. Enter through the west doorway near Babcock Drive. Proceed directly up a flight of stairs. The mural is on the staircase landing, one story above ground level.

Accessible Directions

The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research is located in the Hector F. DeLuca Biochemistry Building. Enter through the west doorway near Babcock Drive. Go straight through a set of double doors to an elevator on the right. In the elevator, select "Floor One." Once out of the elevator, go straight toward the western side of the building. Continue through a door on the right which leads to the staircase landing, where the mural is located.

Bibliography

Video:  Dave Nelson and Lauren Kroiz, "The John Steuart Curry Murals"

Video:  "Demolition to Restoration:  The Conservation of John Steuart Curry's Biochemistry Murals by Joan Gorman"

360° View of The Social Benefits of Biochemical Research

Junker, Patricia. John Steuart Curry: Inventing the Middle West. New York: Hudson Hills Press in association with the Elvehjem Museum of Art, 1998.

Kendall, M. Sue. Rethinking Regionalism: John Steuart Curry and the Kansas Mural Controversy. Washington D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1986.