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American Gothic by Grant Wood

January 23, 2011

‘American Gothic’ by Grant Wood is one of the most popular and recognizable paintings in the history of American art.  In fact, there have been countless parodies of this particular art piece made around the world.  One may be surprised that such a simple painting can make such an impact.  After all, the painting only features a man and a woman standing side by side in front of a wooden house.  However, Wood’s well-known masterpiece conveys much more than what is seen by the viewer.

The focal point of the painting are the two subjects, the aforementioned male and female.  The man, a 19th century farmer, was modeled by the painter’s dentist BH McKeeby from Cedar Rapids.  The woman, who is supposed to be the farmer’s spinster daughter, was modeled by Wood’s sister Nan.  The 19th century wooden house found in the background actually exists in real life.  The structure, which was built in the American Gothic style, is a tourist attraction in the southern town of Eldon, Iowa.  The title of the painting refers to the architectural style of the said house.

Grant Wood is from Iowa.  He saw the house in Eldon, and became inspired by it.  The realm of small towns has always been special for Wood, which is why most of his paintings reflected small town living.  ‘American Gothic’  was created in 1930, a time when the United States was facing the Great Depression.  It is said that the art work is a representation of the strict yet persevering nature of Middle America.  Wood is a known figure in Regionalism, an art movement that focused on the life of rural America as opposed to the scenes of big cities and cosmopolitan living.  As expected, this movement originated from the Midwest.  While Regionalism is seen as an attack on European art, the influence of Europe on Wood cannot be denied.  As seen in ‘American Gothic’, the style and austere arrangement of the subjects is a nod to Northern Renaissance art.

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