Grant Wood adopted the precise realism of 15th-century northern European artists, but his native Iowa provided the artist with his subject matter. American Gothic depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter posing before their house, whose gabled window and tracery, in the American gothic style, inspired the painting's title. In fact, the models were the painter's sister and their dentist. Wood was accused of creating in this work a satire on the intolerance and rigidity that the insular nature of rural life can produce; he denied the accusation. American Gothic is an image that epitomizes the Puritan ethic and virtues that he believed dignified the Midwestern character.More ...
American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood's inspiration came in his decision to paint what is known as the American Gothic House along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." He painted it in 1930, depicting a farmer standing beside a woman who has been interpreted to be his daughter or his wife. The figures were modeled by Wood's sister Nan Wood Graham and their dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron evoking 19th-century Americana, and the man is holding a pitchfork. The plants on the porch of the house are mother-in-law's tongue and beefsteak begonia, which are the same as the plants in Wood's 1929 portrait of his mother Woman with Plants.
It is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art and has been widely parodied in American popular culture. The painting was displayed in Paris at the Musée de l'Orangerie in its first showing outside the United States on October 15, 2016 – January 30, 2017, and in London at the Royal Academy of Arts February 25 – June 4, 2017.
In August 1930, Grant Wood, an American painter with European training, was driven around Eldon, Iowa, by a young painter from Eldon, John Sharp. Looking for inspiration, Wood noticed the Dibble House, a small white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style. Sharp's brother suggested in 1973 that it was on this drive that Wood first sketched the house on the back of an envelope. Wood's earliest biographer, Darrell Garwood, noted that Wood "thought it a form of borrowed pretentiousness, a structural absurdity, to put a Gothic-style window in such a flimsy frame house." At the time, Wood classified it as one of the "cardboardy frame houses on Iowa farms" and considered it "very paintable". After obtaining permission from the Jones family, the house's owners, Wood made a sketch the next day in oil on paperboard from the house's front yard. This sketch displayed a steeper roof and a longer window with a more pronounced ogive than on the actual house, features which eventually adorned the final work.
Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." He recruited his sister Nan (1899–1990) to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th-century Americana. The man is modeled on Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867–1950) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nan, perhaps embarrassed about being depicted as the wife of a man twice her age, told people that her brother had envisioned the couple as father and daughter, rather than husband and wife, which Wood seems to confirm in his letter to a Mrs. Nellie Sudduth in 1941.
Elements of the painting stress the vertical that is associated with Gothic architecture. The three-pronged pitchfork is echoed in the stitching of the man's overalls, the Gothic window of the house, and the structure of the man's face. However, Wood did not add figures to his sketch until he returned to his studio in Cedar Rapids. He would not return to Eldon again before his death in 1942, although he did request a photograph of the home to complete his painting.
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