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Work of the Week: American Gothic

Grant Wood’s American Gothic was an instant hit when it was shown at the Art Institute in 1930 (shortly after it was painted), but who would have guessed that it would become one of the most famous and parodied paintings in the world? Wood depicted a version of his native Iowa that was conservative and traditional, and audiences in Chicago immediately responded to this exotic, unknown world.

The impetus for the painting came while Wood was visiting the small town of Eldon. There he spotted a little wood farmhouse, with a single oversized window, made in a style called Carpenter Gothic. “I imagined American Gothic people with their faces stretched out long to go with this American Gothic house,” he said. He used his sister and his dentist as models for a farmer and his daughter, dressing them as if they were “tintypes from my old family album.”

There’s a slightly satirical element to the painting, which often is understood as a comment on the Midwestern character. And it serves as a great starting point for America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s. In this tumultuous era, artists sought to forge a new national art and identity, asking questions like ‘what is American art?’ In the wake of the stock market fall, American Gothic invites us to understand an entire generation of these Adams and Eves who felt they had been expelled from the American Garden of Eden.

This weekend is your final chance to see American Gothic in America after the Fall before the exhibition closes this Sunday. And while you’re there, bid bon voyage to American Gothic, as it will leave North America for the very first time as the exhibition travels to Paris and London.

Image Credit: Grant Wood. American Gothic, 1930. Friends of American Art Collection.