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Grant Wood - American Gothic

by Laura Gerstmann

It is one of the most staged and received images in American pop culture and brought immediate fame to its previously unknown painter Grant Wood.

American Gothic depicts a family portrait showing a farmer and his daughter in front of a wooden house with a central large window in the Carpenter Gothic style. Wood had discovered the house by chance in the town of Eldon, Iowa, and designed the figures based on how he imagined the house's occupants. His sister Nan and his dentist served as models. In the case of the latter, he was particularly fascinated by the long straight face, which focuses the viewer with a determined gaze. He tightly grips the handle of the pitchfork, which he holds upright in front of his body. A symbol of the practice of his profession. Des Farmer's daughter, however, has not directed her gaze at the viewer, but lets it slide past him. A seemingly skeptical expression lies in her eyes. Both subjects dressed Wood according to the style of clothing in the old photographs of his family album. Not only is the clothing in keeping with the style, but the composition is also based on old portrait photography.

The detailed elaboration of the figures and the frontality of them corresponds to the Flemish Renaissance style, from which the painter was inspired during his travels in Europe from 1920-26.

Although Wood intended his painting to make a positive statement about the American Midwest and its rural inhabitants, it is persistently misunderstood. Thus, many people see it more as a satirical commentary, an image of exhilaration in times of great volatility and crisis in the early 20th century after World War I.

Grant Wood - American Gothic

Oil on fiberboard, 1930, 78 x 65.3 cm, Art Institute of Chicago in Chicago


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