After seven years of complex restoration efforts, John Edward Thompson’s long-obscured Shakespearean mural that adorns the proscenium arch of the Reiman Theater (formerly the Little Theatre) at the University of Denver (DU) has been returned to its former glory. But while many viewers will easily recognize some of the characters featured on the mural, including the head of the Bard of Avon himself, less might be known about the artist who painted them.
One of Colorado’s leading modernist painters, John Edward Thompson was an artist and professor credited with introducing Denver to modern art. Born in Buffalo, New York, in 1882, he spent the early years of the 20th century studying painting in Europe before returning to the United States. Eventually settling in Denver, Thompson caught the attention of critics and the public alike due to his participation in an exhibition at the Denver Public Library in 1919, the first time that a collection of modern art pieces had ever been displayed in the city. Although the exhibition caused a scandal at the time, Thompson, along with a network of Denver artists and architects, continued to champion the cause of modernism through the creation of decorative paintings and murals in homes and office buildings.
In the early 1920s, Thompson began teaching at Chapell School of Art, which was later integrated into DU as its art department. During his time on the DU faculty, Thompson painted his long-lost Shakespearean mural. He remained a DU professor until his death in 1945. His combination of academic and artistic activities later earned him the title of “Dean of Colorado Painters” from his colleagues.