Study for the mural "The Incident" Artist: John Wilson (American, 1922–2015)


Prints and Drawings

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.


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: 17 × 21 1/4 in. (43.2 × 54 cm)

Credit Line

Janet and Simeon Braguin Fund

Accession Number



20th century


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 records is ongoing.

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Object/Work type



Signed at LR: Wilson "52"

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