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Grant Wood American Gothic
Like many of his American contemporaries in the 1920s, the young artist Grand Wood departed on a series of trips to Europe, to study in Paris and browse the museums of the Western and Central continent. In Paris he found only Bohemians perched at their fashionable bars and remembered his productive and energetic upbringing on the family farm. His realisation coincided with a seismic shift in American socio-cultural history; the Great Depression. Wood did what few of his peers would have considered – he left Paris for Iowa. But before he left for home he visited a number of museums in Munich and came into contact with the realism of the Northern Renaissance painters of the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Struck by the stark and deeply weighty methods of representing people, Wood abandoned his Impressionistic style and began to develop what would become known as American regionalism. From then on his work included local history, local figures, friends of family, each elaborately staged, stiffly posed, and resplendent in their artificiality.
His 1930 painting American Gothic is without doubt one of the most recognizable images in Western painting and a revelatory work of the American imagination. For this re-enactment of a 'typical' rural family, Wood took inspiration from a building he frequently passed, then and now known as the American Gothic House and found in the Iowa town of Eldon. The structure was built in 1881 in the Gothic Revival architectural style. Wood began to imagine what kind of people would live in a house like that. Consequently in American Gothic it is the built environment that comes before national identity, and defines the elements of regionalism as driven by both the imagination and by the architectural fragments of the past that litter the landscape.
Wood's American Gothic depicts a farmer alongside his unmarried daughter, using as models his dentist and his sister, and is inspired by the mid-nineteenth century daguerrotype photographs that he half-remembered from his family home. Rigid, aged, and constrained within a tempestuous stoicism, Wood's figures are reminiscent of the pioneers of the Western expansion. Indeed, these individuals, although substitutes for a perceived reality become folklore icons of the Great Depression within the tight space of the frame. Through the countless parodies and reproductions struck from Wood's painting these humble models are now firmly ingrained in an inherited memory of the American experience in the 1930s, a time when Americana became not a symbol of affluence but a symbol of loneliness and eccentricity.
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