Behind the Scenes – Grant Wood

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Grant Wood – American Gothic

Grant Wood’s painting ‘American Gothic’ is a relatively small painting measuring 78 x 65.3 cm. It is an oil painting, painted on Beaver board; a type of fibreboard formed by compressing wood fibre into sheets. Completed in 1930 the painting was inspired by a visit to Eldon in Iowa, USA. Flemish Renaissance painters such as Albrecht Durer and Jan Van Eyck heavily influenced the painting’s style. ‘American Gothic’ inspired Regionalism a style of painting associated with mid-west America.

Grant Wood was born on his parents’ farm outside of Anamosa, Iowa, on February 13, 1891. The idyllic rural setting had a profound effect on Wood greatly influencing his later paintings. After his father died, around 1901, the family moved to Cedar Rapids. Wood attended the Minneapolis School of Design and Handicraft in 1910 and learnt to work with metal and jewellery. Numerous commissions were gained from paintings locally in department stores.

Grant Wood – Background

During the 1920s, Wood travelled to Europe and visited museums of France and Italy. After studying at the Académie Julian in Paris he returned inspired by Impressionism.  A trip to Munich in 1928 introduced him to the 15th- and 16th-century German and Flemish masters. Their realism and attention to detail amazed him. Impressionism was abandoned and ‘American Gothic’ the result of his newfound passion. ‘American Gothic’ brought him instant fame and provided the platform to promote Regionalism to new aspiring artists. However, the rise of abstraction in the 1940’s led to a decline in interest in Wood’s work. At the age of 50 in 1942 he died of cancer.

‘American Gothic’ was first exhibited at The Forty–third Annual Exhibition of American Paintings and Sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago in October 1930. Wood received a prize of $300 after the Painting was awarded a bronze medal, a not inconsiderable sum for a struggling artist. The Art Institute of Chicago acquired the painting In November of that year. Grant Wood said he painted ‘American Gothic’ to extol rural American values, an image of reassurance during the onset of the great depression.  Yet many, including Gertrude Stein, had a different view. She wrote “We should fear Grant Wood. Every artist and every school of artists should be afraid of him, for his devastating satire.” I wonder if you’ll agree?

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