World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

American Gothic

Article Id: WHEBN0001192806
Reproduction Date:

Title: American Gothic  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Grant Wood, Carpenter Gothic, Art Institute of Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Good Fences
Collection: 1930 Paintings, American Paintings, Iowa Culture, Modern Paintings, Paintings of the Art Institute of Chicago
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

American Gothic

American Gothic
Man and woman with stern expession stand side-by-side. The man holds a pitch fork.
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 in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood's inspiration came from what is now known as the American Gothic House, and his decision to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." The painting shows a farmer standing beside a woman that has been interpreted to be either his wife or his daughter.[1][2] The figures were modeled by the artist's sister and their dentist. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron evoking 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. The plants on the porch of the house are mother-in-law's tongue and geranium, which are the same plants as in Wood's 1929 portrait of his mother, Woman with Plants.[3]

It is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art, and has been widely parodied in American popular culture.[1]


  • Creation 1
  • Reception 2
  • Parodies 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Works 6
  • External links 7


Grant Wood, Self-portrait, 1932, Figge Art Museum

In August 1930, Grant Wood, an American painter with European training, was driven around Eldon, Iowa by a young painter from Eldon, John Sharp. Looking for inspiration, Wood noticed the Dibble House, a small white house built in the Carpenter Gothic architectural style.[4] Sharp's brother suggested in 1973 that it was on this drive that Wood first sketched the house on the back of an envelope. Wood's earliest biographer, Darrell Garwood, noted that Wood "thought it a form of borrowed pretentiousness, a structural absurdity, to put a Gothic-style window in such a flimsy frame house."[5] At the time, Wood classified it as one of the "cardboardy [sic] frame houses on Iowa farms" and considered it "very paintable".[6] After obtaining permission from the Jones family, the house's owners, Wood made a sketch the next day in oil on paperboard from the house's front yard. This sketch displayed a steeper roof and a longer window with a more pronounced ogive than on the actual house, features which eventually adorned the final work.

Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house."[1] He recruited his sister Nan (1899–1990) to model the woman, dressing her in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th-century Americana. The man is modeled on Wood's dentist,[7] Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867–1950) from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.[8][9] Nan, perhaps embarrassed about being depicted as the wife of a man twice her age, told people that her brother had envisioned the couple as father and daughter, rather than husband and wife, which Grant seems to confirm in his letter to a Mrs. Nellie Sudduth in 1941. [1] [10]

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.[11] However, Wood did not add figures to his sketch until he returned to his studio in Cedar Rapids.[12] He would not return to Eldon again before his death in 1942, although he did request a photograph of the home to complete his painting.[4]


Wood entered the painting in a competition at the Art Institute of Chicago. The judges deemed it a "comic valentine", but a museum patron persuaded them to award the painting the bronze medal and $300 cash prize. The patron also persuaded the Art Institute to buy the painting, which remains there today.[2] 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."[13] Wood protested that he had not painted a caricature of Iowans but a depiction of his appreciation, stating "I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa."[7]

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 1924 The Tattooed Countess in literature.[1]

Yet another interpretation sees it as an "old-fashioned mourning portrait... Tellingly, the curtains hanging in the windows of the house, both upstairs and down, are pulled closed in the middle of the day, a mourning custom in Victorian America. The woman wears a black dress beneath her apron, and glances away as if holding back tears. One imagines she is grieving for the man beside her..." Wood had been only 10 when his father had died and later had lived for a decade "above a garage reserved for hearses," so death was on his mind.[14]

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."[1]


The 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.[1]

American Gothic is a frequently parodied image. It has been lampooned in Broadway shows such as The Music Man, films such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show, television shows, marketing campaigns, pornography, and by couples who recreate the image by facing a camera, one of them holding a pitchfork or other object in its place.[1]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Fineman, Mia (June 8, 2005). "The Most Famous Farm Couple in the World: Why American Gothic still fascinates.". Slate.
  2. ^ a b "About This Artwork: American Gothic". The Art Institute of Chicago. Archived from the original on 28 May 2010. Retrieved June 20, 2010. 
  3. ^ "The Painting". American Gothic House. Retrieved 2015-01-08. 
  4. ^ a b "American Gothic House Center".  
  5. ^ Garwood, p. 119
  6. ^ Qtd. in Hoving, p. 36
  7. ^ a b Semuels, Alana (April 30, 2012). "At Home in a Piece of History". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 25, 2013. 
  8. ^ Dr Byron H. McKeeby at Find a Grave
  9. ^ The models for American Gothic
  10. ^ "Grant Wood's Letter Describing American Gothic". Retrieved 2010-04-12. 
  11. ^ "Grant Wood's American Gothic". Smarthistory at Khan Academy. Retrieved December 18, 2012. 
  12. ^ Qtd. in Biel, p. 22
  13. ^ Andréa Fernandes. "mental_floss Blog » Iconic America: Grant Wood". Retrieved 2010-04-12. 
  14. ^ Deborah Solomon (October 28, 2010). "Gothic American". The New York Times. 


  • Steven Biel (2005). American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting. W. W. Norton & Company.  
  • Garwood, Darrell (1944). Artist in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.  
  • Hoving, Thomas (2005). American Gothic: The Biography of Grant Wood's American Masterpiece. New York: Chamberlain Bros.  
  • André Girod: American Gothic, l'Harmattan, Paris 2014

External links

External video
Smarthistory - Grant Wood's American Gothic
American Gothic House
  • Grant Wood and Frank Lloyd Wright Compared
  • About the painting, on the Art Institute's site
  • Slate article about American Gothic
  • American Gothic, French
  • American Gothic: A Life of America's Most Famous Painting
  • Television Commercials (1950s-1960s) contains General Mills New Country Corn Flakes commercial
  • American Gothic sculpture removed from Michigan Avenue
  • American Gothic Parodies collection
  • November 18, 2002, National Public Radio “Morning Edition” report about “American Gothic” by Melissa Gray that includes an interview with Art Institute of Chicago curator Daniel Schulman.
  • June 6, 1991, National Public Radio “Morning Edition” report on Iowa's celebration of the centennial of Grant Wood's birth by Robin Feinsmith. Several portions of the report focus on “American Gothic”.
  • .Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and CultureFebruary 13, 1976, National Public Radio “All Things Considered” Cary Frumpkin interview with James Dennis, author of The interview contains a discussion about "American Gothic".
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.