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American Gothic
Artist Grant Wood
Year 1930
Type Oil on beaverboard
Dimensions 74.3 cm × 62.4 cm (29¼ in × 24½ in)
Location Art Institute of Chicago

American Gothic is a painting by Grant Wood from 1930. Its inspiration came from a cottage designed in the Gothic Revival style with a distinctive upper window[1] and a decision to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house."[2] The painting shows a farmer standing beside a woman whose identity remains ambiguous; she may either be his spinster daughter, as explained by the artist's sister, or the farmer's wife. The figures were modeled by the artist's dentist and sister. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana and the couple are in the traditional roles of men and women, the man's pitchfork symbolizing hard labor, and the flowers over the woman's right shoulder suggesting domesticity.

It is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art and one of the most parodied artworks within American popular culture.

Contents

Creation

In 1930, Grant Wood, an American painter with European training, noticed a small white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style in Eldon, Iowa. Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house."[2] He recruited his sister Nan (1900–1990) to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana. The man is modeled on Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867–1950) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The three-pronged hay fork is echoed in the stitching of the man's overalls, the Gothic window of the house and the structure of the man's face. Each element was painted separately; the models sat separately and never stood in front of the house.

Reception

The Carpenter Gothic style house in Eldon, Iowa depicted in American Gothic.

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 bronze medal and $300 cash prize. The patron also convinced the Art Institute to buy the painting, which remains there today.[3] 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"[4]. 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 embarrassed at being depicted as the wife of someone twice her age, began telling people that the painting was of a man and his daughter[2], which Grant seems to confirm in a letter written by him to a Mrs. Nellie Sudduth in 1941.[5]

American Gothic (1942) by Gordon Parks was the first prominent parody of the painting.

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 toward increasingly critical depictions of rural America, along the lines of Sherwood Anderson's 1919 Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis's 1920 Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess in literature.[2]

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."[2] 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.[2]

Parodies

American Gothic is one of the few paintings to reach the status of cultural icon, along with Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch's The Scream.[2] 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. The cinematic posters of the films For Richer or Poorer, American Gothic, and Good Fences parody the painting. Characters in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Beauty and the Beast pose as the couple during musical segments. The lead stars of Green Acres, Eva Gabor and Eddie Albert, pose similarly to the couple in the painting in the opening of the show. The memorable 1960s' commercial for General Mills New Country Corn Flakes centers around the painting. It is a key motif in Anthony Weigh's play 2,000 Feet Away, which opens with a scene featuring the painting at the Art Institute.

A sculpture entitled "God Bless America" that features the American Gothic couple went on display in December 2008 in Chicago, Illinois but has been removed as of February 26th, 2010. It was located just south of the Tribune Tower on the Magnificent Mile of Michigan Avenue .[6] Postcards mimicking the couple with sitting US Presidents, Presidential nominees, and their spouses are popular commercial products. Ohio State Buckeyes football games feature the painting on their scoreboard; within a few seconds of its display, the man's eyes bug out and his tongue wags. The Smashing Pumpkins borrowed the title for their 2008 EP American Gothic, as did a 1995 television horror series created by Shaun Cassidy. Elton John and RuPaul portray the couple on the video for "Don't Go Breaking My Heart". Astrovamps parodied the painting on the cover of their album, American Gothik. The Ma and Pa couple at the beginning of the Doctor Who episode "Gridlock" are fashioned in the style of the couple in the painting. The American Gothic couple have even been reinterpreted as Living Dead Dolls twice, in 2004 and 2009.[7]

A parody of American Gothic, in which the head of the farmer is not shown, is seen as one of the pictures Pee-wee pulls down in the Picturephone in the Pee-wee's Playhouse episode Miss Yvonne's Visit.

American Gothic is parodied on the cover of POSTAL2: Apocalypse Weekend in which the farmer is replaced with Postal Dude, the spinster daughter is replaced with one of the Postal Babes, and the sky is replaced with what appears to be a picture of one of the Operation: CASTLE tests, possibly Castle ROMEO.

References

  • Steven Biel (2005). American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting. W. W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-05912-X. 

Notes

External links

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Simple English

American Gothic is a painting made by Grant Wood. It was painted in the early 20th century. The painting is a father and daughter (not his wife as many people think) standing beside each other with the father holding a pitchfork in his hand standing in front of a house. The painting was painted on a beaverboard with oil and is currently on display in the Art Institute of Chicago.


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