Grant Wood, 1891-1942, was one of the principal Artistic Regionalists of the 1930s. He depicted his Iowan subjects in a deliberately primitive manner, almost satirizing them. His art was highly influenced by the volatile events of World War One and The Great Depression. The name Grant Wood brings to mind, the Midwest, farms and traditional Americana. Wood used his art to portray his perception of the American Midwest, its people, and his ideas of the American Legacy in his art.
Grant Wood Sketching
Grant Wood was born on Feb. 13, 1891, at Anamosa, Iowa. His father, a farmer, died in 1901, and the family moved to Cedar Rapids. There Grant took drawing lessons from local artists and attended high school. He studied design briefly in Minneapolis at the Handicraft Guild, taught school near Cedar Rapids, and then took a job in 1913 in a silversmith shop in Chicago and attended night classes at the Art Institute. In 1916 he registered at the Art Institute for full-time study as a "fresco painter."
During World War One Wood served in Washington, D.C., where he made clay models of field gun positions and helped camouflage artillery pieces. After teaching art in a Cedar Rapids high school, he left for Europe in 1923. He spent most of the next 14 months in Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian. The paintings he did in Paris were in an impressionistic manner.
Yes, believe it or not Grant Wood started out as an Impressionist painter. Like the Impressionist artist Claude Monet, they both studied the colors and light of the natural world to create works during different seasons, times of day, and places.
In 1927 Wood received a commission for a stained-glass window memorializing the veterans of World War I to be installed in the Cedar Rapids City Hall. To learn the technique of stained glass he went to Munich. There he admired the work of the 15th-century French and German primitive painters and began to work in a linear, primitivizing style. When he returned to The United States In the late 1920s he painted portraits of his mother and local Iowans.
Grant Wood was one of the first artists to promote and create art in the Regionalism movement. Wood and his contemporaries strived to create art that was uniquely American. It is both ironic and intriguing that in this struggle he was influenced by European styles from the Renaissance to Impressionism.
In 1930 Grant Wood finished American gothic. Grant Wood's American Gothic—the double portrait of a pitchfork-wielding farmer and a woman commonly presumed to be his wife—is perhaps the most recognizable painting in 20th century American art, an indelible icon of Americana, and certainly Wood's most famous artwork.
An example of his use of Regionalism is his painting The Birthplace of Herbert Hoover, depicting the home where the president was born in West Branch, Iowa. Wood painted this before the house became a landmark, and it is located near where Wood grew up. By painting and naming this specific scene he is predicting its historical importance and creating a tie between rural America, the presidency, and even himself.
As Wood painting style evolved, he uses his signature bird’s eye view perspective so that the viewer feels as if he or she is looking down upon the scene rather than at an eye level. The perspective is so zoomed in that the viewer can see each individual tree leaf and even tiny acorns placed at the very top of a tree. His scenes are like miniature reproductions of towns, and it creates a dream-like appearance even though he is depicting real places. His trees are enormous compared to the homes he illustrates, emphasizing how nature dominates over the homes and people. He idealized the countryside and disliked the large urban settings, using Regionalism to depict the contrasts between man and nature. Regionalism was used to not only depict life in the country but to give voices to those who did not have one in cosmopolitan cities.
Wood’s interpretation of the Midwestern landscape and its people were nostalgic and reminded people of the traditional way of rural life that was largely disappearing. With the rise of industrialized cities, Wood’s paintings have become a record of what life was like during his time. They are nostalgic because his landscapes look like something from a daydream, but they also showcase the realities of people’s lives in rural towns. His paintings portray real images of his childhood, and they became a way for him to hold onto those sentimental memories. With this perspective, his works are melancholy in the hopes that civilization would return to their roots of being an agricultural nation.
In addition to his landscape paintings, Wood created American imagery that contained satirical and political themes. Parson Weems’ Fable depicts Parson Weems himself pulling back a curtain to show a depiction of his tale of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree and not being able to tell a lie. Wood utilizes this image to literally “pull away the curtain” and showcase the reality behind the myth.
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.
Self Portrait. Grant Wood updated and repainted his self portrait many times and at his death did not consider it finished.
Grant Wood was one of the major Regionalists, a group of painters who in the 1930s employed a variety of naturalistic styles.
American Regionalism was an American realist modern art movement that included paintings, murals, lithographs, and illustrations depicting realistic scenes of rural and small-town America primarily in the Midwest. It grew in the 1930s as a response to the Great Depression and ended in the 1940s with the end of World War II. Regionalism reached was popular from 1930 to 1935, with its reassuring images of the American heartland during the Great Depression. Despite major stylistic differences between specific artists, Regionalist art in general was a conservative and traditionalist style that appealed to popular American sensibilities, while strictly opposing the perceived domination of French art
Before World War II, the concept of Modernism was not clearly defined within the context of American art. There was a struggle to define a uniquely American art. On the path to determining what American art would be, some American artists rejected the modern trends European influences. By rejecting European abstract styles, American artists chose to adopt academic realism, which depicted American urban and rural scenes. Due to the Great Depression, Regionalism became one of the dominant art movements in America in the 1930s. In This era the United States was heavily agricultural. A small portion of the United States population was living in industrial cities.
American Regionalism is best known through its "Regionalist Triumvirate" consisting of the three most highly respected artists of America's Great Depression era: Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton, and John Steuart Curry. All three studied art in Paris, but devoted their lives to creating a truly American form of art. They believed that the solution to urban problems in American life and the Great Depression was for the United States to return to its rural, agricultural roots.
When World War II ended, Regionalism and Social Realism lost status in the art world. The end of World War II ushered in a new era of peace and prosperity, and the Cold War brought a change in the political perception of Americans and allowed Modernist critics to gain power. Regionalism and Social Realism also lost popularity among American viewers due to a lack of development within the movement due to the primarily rural subject matter. Abstract expressionism became the new prominent and popular artistic movement.
Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth were the primary successors to Regionalism's natural realism. Rockwell became widely popular with his illustrations of the American family in magazines. Wyeth on the other hand painted Christina's World, which competes with Wood's American Gothic for the title of America's favorite painting.
Regionalism has had a strong and lasting influence on popular culture, particularly in America. It has given America some of its most iconic pieces of art that symbolize the country. Regionalist-type imagery influenced many American children's book illustrators and still shows up in advertisements, movies, and novels today.