Prints and Drawings
Photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery
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Artist: John Wilson, American, 1922–2015

Study for the mural “The Incident”

1952

Opaque and transparent watercolor, ink, and graphite, squared for transfer

framed: 22 5/8 × 28 5/8 × 1 1/2 in. (57.5 × 72.7 × 3.8 cm)
sheet: 43.2 × 54 cm (17 × 21 1/4 in.)
Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund
2000.81.1
In 1952, while studying mural painting in Mexico City, African American artist John Wilson created a hauntingly powerful mural titled “The Incident” depicting a racial-terror lynching at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, as witnessed by a young Black family. The commanding fresco was painted on an exterior wall of a building at street level and featured twice-life-size figures, so the experience of encountering it would have been direct and visceral. Inspired by the political and social activism of the Mexican muralists, in particular José Clemente Orozco, and haunted by images of lynchings that he had seen in newspapers as a child, Wilson revisited the subject of “The Incident” over many years as a way of grappling with racial violence, both past and present. While the mural is no longer extant, its imagery is known through preparatory studies like this near-final one and related works in the Gallery’s and other collections, including oil paintings, lithographs, and drawings in chalk, crayon, graphite, and gouache. The title of the mural is seemingly simple yet remarkably evocative. It does not direct the gaze toward a particular figure or action but instead references the entire scene, asking the viewer to observe the significance of each detail.
Geography: 
Made in United States
Culture: 
American
Period: 
20th century
Classification: 
Works on Paper - Drawings and Watercolors
Bibliography: 

Pamela Franks and Robert E. Steele, Embodied: Black Identities in American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2010), 12, 67, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.