Some works are so iconic, that they create a cult following. Usually these are some Old Masters with their traditional large-scale epic pieces. But today we are going to discuss something a little bit different, but surely not less iconic.
American Gothic is a painting executed by Grant Wood, American painter who is best known for his depiction of a rural Midwest and its daily life. He is also associated with American Regionalism, an art movement that resisted the influence of European Abstraction and focused on the figurative depiction of local themes.
At first, this might seem like a typical portrait of two people. But the more you study the painting, the more it makes you wonder “What is depicted here?”. Well, let’s try to reach to some facts and figure out the essence of its allure.
It was inspired by the Carpenter Gothic architectural style
Wood was travelling across Eldon, Iowa and saw this wonderful Gothic house. Carpenter Gothic or Rural Gothic is North American architectural style that implied decorative elements usually carved in stone in original Gothic architecture to authentic wooden houses. The artists had made a few sketches and later decided to paint the house alongside with its potential dwellers.
Couple or father and daughter?
It has not been distinguished accurately who is depicted on the painting. We know that for models Wood used his sister and his dentist, both of whom were dressed as 19th century Americana. The story goes that Wood’s sister was puzzled by a big age difference between two characters at the picture, so she told everyone that they were father and daughter, rather than a married couple. Some of the Wood’s letters prove this story, but the debates are still on.
Facial expressions are undoubtedly painting’s points of high interest. The man has rather sullen look; he is depicted with a pitchfork and signifies traditional perspective of manhood. Woman looks worried and is glancing away. The perplexing mystery of the painting is lying withing the character’s features and the relations between them. Their faces and emotions cannot be described with absolute surety, thus making us think that the author did it deliberately. As a result we have an ambiguous couple with quite traditional background. This factor does the trick, and we cannot help ourselves with the desire to figure them out.
The painting itself has some interesting patterns. The pitchfork creates some parallels with man’s shirt and jacket. The ornament on women’s dress is actually the same as the decoration of the window in the background. Wood brought the main focus on the couple and the house with great amount of details, so that the viewer would concentrate on them and feel the interconnection.
Though the work was praised by critics, Grant Wood was also criticized for the grotesque portrayal of Iowans. Though he denied any satiric pinch to his work, American Gothic was praised exactly as a parody on the people of nature on the contrary with urban dwellers. It is also has been a symbol of the American stoical spirit during the Great Depression. After a while, the painting has been mimicked numerous times and became a cultural icon praised till these days.