Oil on Beaver Board
78 x 65.3 cm (30 3/4 x 25 3/4 in.)
Signed and dated lower right on overalls: GRANT / WOOD / 1930
Friends of American Art Collection, 1930.934
Grant Wood’s American Gothic caused a stir in 1930 when it was exhibited for the first time at the Art Institute of Chicago and awarded a prize of 300 dollars. Newspapers across the country carried the story, and the painting of a farm couple posed before a white house brought the artist instant fame. The Iowa native, then in his late 30s, was enchanted by a cottage he had seen in the small southern Iowa town of Eldon. Its Gothic Revival style, indicated by the upper window designed to resemble a medieval pointed arch, inspired the painting’s title. He asked his dentist and his sister Nan to pose as a farmer and his unmarried daughter. The highly detailed style and rigid frontal arrangement of the figures were inspired by Northern Renaissance art, which the artist studied during three trips to Europe. After returning to Iowa, he became increasingly appreciative of the traditions of the Midwest , which he also celebrated in works such as this one.
American Gothic remains one of the most famous paintings in the history of American art. It is a primary example of Regionalism, a movement that aggressively opposed European abstract art, preferring depictions of rural American subjects rendered in a representational style. The painting has become part of American popular culture, and the couple has been the subject of endless parodies. Some believe that Wood used this painting to satirize the narrow-mindedness and repression that has been said to characterize Midwestern culture, an accusation he denied. The painting may also be read as a glorification of the moral virtue of rural America or even as an ambiguous mixture of praise and satire.