American Gothic  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood, from 1930. Portraying a pitchfork-holding farmer and his daughter in front of a house of Carpenter Gothic style, it is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art.

Wood wanted to depict the traditional roles of men and women as the man is holding a pitchfork symbolizing hand labor. Wood referenced late 19th century photography and posed his sitters in a manner reminiscent of early American portraiture.

American Gothic is one of the few images to reach the status of cultural icon, along with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Contents

Creation

In 1930, Grant Wood, an American painter with European training, noticed a small white house built in "Carpenter Gothic" architecture in Eldon, Iowa. Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." He recruited his sister Nan to model the women, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana. The man is modeled on Wood's dentist, Byron McKeeby of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The three-pronged pitchfork was echoed in the stitching of the man's clothing, the windows of the house, and the structure of the man's face. However, each element was painted separately; the models sat separately and never stood in front of the house.

Reception

Wood entered the painting in a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The judges deemed it a "comic valentine," but a museum patron convinced them to award the painting the third medal and $300 cash prize. The patron also convinced the Art Institute to buy the painting, where it remains today. The image soon began to be reproduced in newspapers, first by the Chicago Evening Post and then in New York, Boston, Kansas City, and Indianapolis. However, Wood received a backlash when the image finally appeared in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Iowans were furious at their depiction as "pinched, grim-faced, puritanical Bible-thumpers". One farmwife threatened to bite Wood's ear off. Wood protested that he had not painted a caricature of Iowans but a depiction of Americans. Nan, apparently embarrased at being depicted as the wife of someone twice her age, began telling people that the painting was of a man and his daughter, a point on which Wood remained silent.

Art critics who had favorable opinions about the painting, such as Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley, also assumed the painting was meant to be a satire of rural small-town life. It was thus seen as part of the trend towards increasingly critical depictions of rural America, along the lines of Sherwood Anderson's 1919 Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis' 1920 Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess in literature.

However, with the onset of the Great Depression, the painting came to be seen as a depiction of steadfast American pioneer spirit. Wood assisted this transition by renouncing his Bohemian youth in Paris and grouping himself with populist Midwestern painters, such as John Steuart Curry and Thomas Hart Benton, who revolted against the dominance of East Coast art circles. Wood was quoted in this period as stating, "All the good ideas I've ever had came to me while I was milking a cow." This Depression-era understanding of the painting as a depiction of an authentically American scene prompted the first well-known parody, a 1942 photo by Gordon Parks of cleaning woman Ella Watson, shot in Washington, D.C.

Parodies

American Gothic is one of the few images to reach the status of cultural icon, along with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch's The Scream. It is thus one of the most reproduced — and parodied — images ever. Many artists have replaced the two people with other known couples and replaced the house with well known houses. References and parodies of the image have been numerous for generations, appearing regularly in such media as postcards, magazines, animated cartoons, advertisements, comic books, and television shows.



Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "American Gothic" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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