Friday, February 10, 2012

New light on old painting

"American Gothic" has been reproduced and parodied so much that I feel I've never had a proper look at it. Taken it for Granted, so to speak. The title comes not from the physiognomies of the couple per se, but from the "Gothic Revival"–style windows of the house Grant Wood fancied and preserved in paint for all time. The 1930 work depicts not a married couple, but his sister, Nan Wood Graham, and his dentist, Byron McKeeby. Here they are next to the painting:

Melissa Gray provided this background in an NPR story on the piece:
Traveling the Iowa landscape in the summer of 1930, Wood happened upon a house in Eldon that caught his fancy. "He was riding around downtown and happened to spot this place," says Bruce Thiher, the town's postmaster and the proprietor of the American Gothic House, still standing today under the ownership of the state of Iowa. It was, says Thiher, "a modest-style house with a gothic-style window across the street from the stockyards, and he found the whole placement of the thing rather amusing. I've been told that the window came as a kit out of a Sears Roebuck catalogue."
Wood intended his title as a visual pun: that upstairs window, with its pointed arch, is of the Gothic architectural style, a reference that finds multiple counterpoints in figures standing in the foreground. The three-pronged pitchfork is one obvious example, but look more closely and you'll see echoes of the design on the face of the man, the bib of his overalls, and the lines on his shirt. In fact, the straightforward Gothic style extends to the directness of the painting itself.
Grant Wood, right, and fellow artist John Steuart Curry in Stone City, Iowa, 1933.
Photo: John W. Barry, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art archives
The house as it looks today
Below: some of the parodies!

If this has piqued your interest in home-grown American art, click here!


  1. Thanks for this! I had never before taken the time to really "look" at the painting or even look into its' background. I've probably overlooked it in lieu of all the parodies over the years... by the way, a google image search of pardoies is pretty rewarding:)

  2. I find this painting so fascinating and not to mention its sort of creepy with the lady and the man looking mysterious and Gothic windows of the otherwise ordinary home.Looking at the house today, it seems so much smaller almost like a cottage, plain and less life like than its portrayed in the painting.Regardless of the "not much to write home about" Gothic dwelling, well as Liz Lemon would say "i want to go to there."

  3. Is it just me, or does Nan, the woman on the left, bare a resemblance to Jennifer Aniston? :O

  4. I love the parody with Willie Nelson! Please tell me this was a Farm Aid poster at one point...if not, it should be!

  5. Barbie & Ken take the cake. Their happy plastic people expressions contrast the original in an oh-so-poetic way.
    I particularly enjoy seeing the photograph of the artist himself.

  6. I never thought about architecture--the title in collaboration with the faces always inspired captions. "Her: To think that for this I gave up my Manhattan condo!". Or, "Much later people would say of him, "We never saw it coming!"

  7. Very funny! you're right, it would make a great caption contest.