Grant Wood Essay

Grant Wood 1941 image: Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

Grant DeVolson Wood (1891 – 1942) was born in 1891 near Anamosa, Iowa. He is best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest. His 1930 painting “American Gothic” has become an iconic image of C20th art.

The family moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa after the death of his father in 1901. After graduating from High School, Wood enrolled in an art school in Minneapolis in 1910. In 1913 he enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Between 1920 and 1828 he made four trips to Europe, where he studied many styles of painting, especially Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.

But it was the work of the C15th Flemish artist Jan van Eyck that influenced him to take on the clarity of van Eck’s technique and incorporate it in his new works. Between 1924 and 1935 Wood lived in the loft of a carriage house thet he turned into his personal studio that became “5 Turner Alley.”

In 1932 Wood helped to found the Stone City Art Colony near his home-town to help artists get through the Great Depression. He became a proponent of regionalism in the arts, lecturing throughout the country on the subject.

He was married to Sara Sherman Maxon from 1935 to 1938. He taught painting at the University of Iowa’s School of Art from 1934 to 1941. During that time he supervised mural painting projects, mentored students, produced a variety of his own works, and became a key part of the University’s cultural community.

Wood died relatively young of pancreatic cancer, one day before his 51st birthday in 1942. His estate went to his sister Nan Wood Graham, the model for the female in “American Gothic.” When she died in 1990, her estate, along with Grant Wood’s personal effects and various works of art, became the property of the Figge Art Museum in davenport, Iowa.

Biographical notes adapted from a Wikipedia entry.

Note: This post updates and replaces an earlier post on Grant Wood in August 2010.


This is part 1 of a 2 – part post on the works of Grant Wood.


1907 Currants watercolour 29.2 x 11.6 cm Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

1917 Quivering Aspen oil on composition board 35.6 x 27.9 cm Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

Note: I couldn't find titles or details for a number of the following works, despite having a book of Grant Wood's works. I have used descriptive titles (in brackets) to denote these works.


1917-18 (Carriage Business)

1919 (Autumn Landscape)

1919 (Old Stone Barn)

1919c Old Sexton's Place oil on composition board 38.1 x 46 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1920 (A Church in Paris)

1920 (A Foggy Day in Paris)

1920 (Café in Paris)

1920 (Osier)

1920 (Paris Street)

1920 (Statue in Paris)

1920 (The Gate within the City Walls)

1920 Fountain of Voltaire, Chatenay oil on composition board 33 x 38.1 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1921-22 Adoration of the Home oil on canvas mounted on panel (intended for use as a billboard for a local real estate agency) 57.8 x 206.7 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1923 Untitled from suite "Savage Iowa" (Buffalo Stampede) pencil and wash on paper 30.5 x 80 cm Smithsonian American art Museum, Washington D.C.

1923 Untitled from suite "Savage Iowa" (Clothes Line) pencil and wash on paper 33 x 80 cm American art Museum, Washington D.C.

1923 Untitled from suite "Savage Iowa" (Cowboy and Indian) pencil and was on paper 25.4 x 68.6 cm Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington D.C.

1924 (Courtyard in Italy)

1924 (Urns)


1924 The Runners, Luxembourg Gardens, Paris oil on composition board 39.7 x 31.7 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1924 The Spotted Man oil on canvas 81.3 x 50.8 cm Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

1924 Truck Garden, Moret oil on composition board 32.4 x 40 cm Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

1924 Yellow Doorway, St. Emilion oil on composition board 41.9 x 33 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1925 Helix Welder oil on canvas 46 x 59 cm

1925 The Shop Inspector oil on canvas 61 x 45.7 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1926 (At the Gate)

1926 (Parisian Scene)

1926 Grandma Wood's House oil on composition board 55.9 x 68.6 cm Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

1926 Old Shoes oil on composition board 24.8 x 25.4 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1926 The Little Chapel Chancelade. Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa

1928-30 Portrait of John B. Turner oil on canvas 76.8 x 64.8 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1929 Portrait of Frances Fiske Marshall oil on canvas 102.9 x 72.4 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1929 Woman with Plants oil on upsom board 52.1 x 45.4 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1930 American Gothic

This familiar image was exhibited publicly for the first time at the Art Institute of Chicago, winning a three-hundred-dollar prize and instant fame for Grant Wood. The impetus for the painting came while Wood was visiting the small town of Eldon in his native Iowa. There he spotted a little wooden 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."
The highly detailed, polished style and the rigid frontality of the two figures were inspired by Flemish Renaissance art, which Wood studied during his travels to Europe between 1920 and 1926.
After returning to settle in Iowa, he became increasingly appreciative of mid-western traditions and culture, which he celebrated in works such as this. American Gothic, often understood as a satirical comment on the mid-western character, quickly became one of America's most famous paintings and is now firmly entrenched in the nation's popular culture. Yet Wood intended it to be a positive statement about rural American values, an image of reassurance at a time of great dislocation and disillusionment. The man and woman, in their solid and well-crafted world, with all their strengths and weaknesses, represent survivors.

Notes from Art Institute of Chicago, Essential Guide 2013.

1930 American Gothic
The house in Eldon
1930 Study for American Gothic oil on paperboard 32.1 x 37.2 cm Smithsonian American art Museum, Washington D.C.
Wood's sister Nan and his dentist with American Gothic

Huge American Gothic statue in Chicago

1930 Arnold Comes of Age (Portrait of Arnold Pyle) oil on board 67.9 x 58.4 cm Sheldon Museum of Art, Nebraska Art Association Collection

1930 Over-mantle Decoration oil on upsom board 104.8 x 162 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1930 Stone City, Iowa oil on composition board 76.8 x 101.6 cm Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha NE

1930 Study for Stone City

1931 Appraisal oil on composition board 74.9 x 89.5 cm Dubuque Museum of Art, Iowa

1931 Fall Plowing oil on canvas 76.2 x 103.5 cm The John Deere Collection, Moline, Illinois

1931 Study for "Fall Plowing" Figge Art Museum, Davenport, Iowa


1931 Plaid Sweater oil on composition board 74.9 x 61.3 cm University of Iowa Museum of Art

1931 The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, West Branch, Iowa oil on composition board 75.2 x 101 cm The Minneapolis Institute of arts, Minnesota

1931 The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere oil on masonite 76.2 x 101.6 cm Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York © 1982 The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1931 Victorian Survival oil on composition board 82.5 x 66.7 cm Dubuque Museum of Art, Iowa


1931 Victorian Survival (Matilda Peet tintype 8.9 x 5.4 cm Davenport Art Gallery)

1931 Young Corn oil on masonite 61 x 75.9 cm Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa

1932 (Spring Oaks)

1932 Arbor Day oil on masonite board 61 x 76.2 cm Museum of Fine Arts, Boston MA

Grant Wood with "Arbor Day"


1932 Daughters of the Revolution oil on masonite board 50.8 x 101.4 cm The Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio


1932 Boy Milking Cow oil on canvas 181 x 160.6 cm Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1932 Farmer with Pigs oil on canvas 181 x 72.4 cm Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1932 Farmer's Daughter oil on canvas 15.6 x 98.4 cm Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

1932 Farmer's Wife with Chickens oil on canvas 181 x 124.5 cm Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

An analysis of the picture painted by Grant Wood American Gothic was painted by Grant Wood in 1930. When looking at the painting you can see two persons that obviously appear as how two persons would have looked like in the 1930s. They are simple living people, dependant on their routines and clearly living on the countryside. The man holds a pitchfork in his hand and wears typical

farmer clothes and the woman wears characteristic housewife clothing. The painting does not really provide other information in addition to than the one&#8217;s presented in the beginning.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The painting offers a distinct description of the rural life with contrasting point of views which in whole signifies the typical life in America in early 20th century. The two persons seen on the picture symbolizes the average American that ever so often lived on the country. There are obvious connections between the different compositions of the painting. Every detail is related to another that belongs in a long chain of associated details.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Husband and wife or father and daughter? Nobody really knows what relationship the two persons on the painting have to each other, even though I think they are related more at a father-daughter level. I have made this conclusion because my interpretation of the male on the painting is that he is defensive, standing a bit in front of the female. He has a facial expression that is rather protective and he is simultaneously staring at us intently, even menacingly, as an animal watching over his children, showing how his true animal instincts take effect when the matter comes to protection of the family domain. Anyway, the woman and the man symbolize the importance of families. However, as seen on the picture, they were not that big of a family due to several possible reasons. Maybe because of bad times in economy or farming. The pitchfork represents the work men perform and the sweat they secrete to provide their families, but it also defines the masculinity of the character and even the evil we can identify us with that pervades the hostile world we live in.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">The hard grip which the man holds the pitchfork with shows how the pair as individuals, but also as a community since they represent the average American, had to work hard for their own well being. You can see in their facial expressions that they are a little worn out and tired, maybe even to some extent miserable. Possibly a result of their dissatisfaction of their living conditions while working so hard. The neatly clothed woman is positioned a little bit in the background and officially she is in a subordinate position compared to the male. Even though the female is standing one step below than the male on the family hierarchy, I think that she is representing authority in the family; it is the females who do all the work at home, keeping everything in place and order, physically and mentally. But still, a lock has escaped her collected bunch of hair, showing that she is just as human as everybody else, full of faults her too, but that doesn&#8217;t affect her self-righteousness with what she does.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">What more is that she has blue eyes, which helps us to identify her as quite naive. She believes in what she hears without being critical to the source. While having an overview when puzzling the pieces that holds in the analysis of the woman we can reflect to religion in one way or another. Since the gothic house in the background of the painting is not complete, the roof is not fully visible, we can not really tell what kind of house it is, it just might be a church. This states that religion is important in America, for the family as well for the government since the females represents authority in general. This combined with her, the peoples, naivety marks that they lay all their trust in God, independent of the improvable existence of a higher being.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">There are cultural as well as social collisions in American Gothic.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">I said before that the persons on the painting are a bit sad, and taking into consideration when the painting is created we can somehow correlate the painting with the American depression that raged throughout the United States from 1929, when the stock market crashed, to 1941 as America decided to join the second World War after they had been bombed in Pearl Harbour by the Japans. What more is the cultural conflict within the painting, for example the big difference between the American lifestyle and European architecture of the house. Nevertheless the parts don&#8217;t match together they stand for unity and maybe as a token of the relationship between the United States and Europe.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">These theories are based upon my own interpretation of the painting, but I think that American Gothic generally is analyzed as an American self-image because the painting captures so many of the old traditional values in it. Whether Grant Wood&#8217;s intention was to symbolize any of these things or not is not of importance since the painting has more impact than the artist.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">All in all the painting is quite empty, there is no certain symbolism embedded in addition to the pitchfork and the gothic window. It is the details that are important to look for, and they can be analyzed differently depending on what person that is viewing the painting. We all have our own ideals and the world affects us differently. Therefore the viewer can interject whatever interpretation he or she wants. The picture is a mystery that you are to solve for yourself.</p>

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