American Gothic Painting: Rise of a New Perspective in American Art

Welcome to America! The birthplace of pop-culture!

It’s a land where many aspire to change the world with their passion. 

America has been a great influence on the modern art perspective. It has witnessed American artists like Jackson Pollock and painter Grant Wood in their prime. 

These American painters embarked on a new style of cultural representation for Americana. 

They depicted the countryside of the states, which wasn’t a popular theme for American art. 

One such artwork happens to be an American Gothic painting. Famous for its confusing theme and peculiar portrayal of Americana, this artwork fetched a lot of attention in the early 1900s. 

Take a close look at this painting, What do you deduce from it at a glance? It looks like a regular couple’s portrait, right?

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Well, it ain’t that easy to decode this masterpiece. Let’s dive deep and learn everything about American Gothic painting.

Suggested Read: Paintings by Jackson Pollock

History behind American Gothic painting

The House 

The Dibble house, Eldon, Iowa which is painted in the American Gothic painting.
Image Source: Wikipedia

The painter of American Gothic, Grant Wood, was quite a traveler. He had a habit of visiting remote American cities in order to seek subjects for his paintings. 

One fine day, when he was in a remote city in Iowa, he saw a house with a triangle shaped roof. He was astonished after looking at the Gothic aspect of the house.  

The famous American painter started imagining the owners of the house immediately after gazing at it for a few minutes. 

He ran through his imagination and ended up with a house colored pencil portrait of the man and woman who lived in the house. 

Grant Wood visualized a tall, bald man with a stretched face and a long nose. Who’s accompanied by a woman with an abnormally long face. 

Later on, Wood went on to bring these characters to life! 

The Great Depression 

The 1929 stock market crash was a significant historical event that shaped the American economy. 

It affected the rural American population drastically, leaving them in the clutches of poverty for a significant period of time. 

However, ranch owners and rich farmers managed to sustain the financial calamity somehow. 

But the Great Depression was not a complete debacle for American artists. Most of them sought inspiration from the changing lifestyle and portrayed it on canvas. 

Just like  painter Grant Wood produced the American Gothic painting just a year after the Great Depression. 

He picked up nuances from the changes that were evident around him post-depression. 

So he thought of embedding some indications of the event in a very subtle manner.

Significance of American Gothic Painting 

Painter Grant Wood was an artist who promoted art movements like Regionalism to complement Europe influenced East-coast modernism

He was among the first generation of American artists who countered European influence in American art through the depiction of Americana. 

This fact itself establishes the significance of American Gothic painting in the development of American art forms. 

This neo-Gothic painting also elevated the standards of post-depression modern art. 

American Gothic painting acted as a milestone for painter Grant Wood. He became popular among midwestern artists because of his house oil portrait.

Speculations Surrounding The Painting

The Couple 

Probably the biggest and most popular theory revolving around the famous painting American Gothic is the portrayal of human subjects in it. 

Famous American painter Grant Wood has painted two subjects in this artwork. An old and bald man is painted holding a pointed pitch-fork with bland expressions. 

A lady with weird expressions is painted next to him. These subjects appear to be husband and wife. 

But, what we see is not true every time. The man is a typical American farmer, and the woman beside him is his daughter. 

Isn’t it a bit confusing? Well, that’s the beauty of art, it’s an ocean of perspectives. 

First Draft 

During Wood’s visit to Eldon, he met one of the local American painters, John Sharp. He also painted a similar kind of architecture, he used to paint it for post office murals. 

One of the famous American artists, Grant Wood, was impressed by his perspective regarding neo-Gothic architecture. So he agreed to groom John Sharp as a full-time painter. 

But, there’s a twist in this story. Before Sharp joined painter Grant Wood to study under him, Wood wanted to inspire American Gothic painting. 

So he drew the first draft behind Sharp’s envelope just to keep the actual idea alive. 

However, this fact gave rise to a new theory. Some people still believe that Grant Wood copied John Sharp’s idea in order to accomplish American Gothic painting. 

Recommended Read: Paintings by Kandinsky

Themes and Symbols

Models 

Dr Mckeeby and Nan Wood standing beside the American Gothic painting.
Image Source: Wikipedia

Many people compare the American Gothic painting with The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck. Those who see the subjects as husband and wife affirm this comparison. 

Despite Wood being an admirer of Van Eyck, the painting American Gothic embodies a completely different theme altogether. 

Actually, Wood asked two of his close associates to model for the American Gothic painting. So the man and the woman visible in the painting were real human beings. 

This unconventional duo is of a father-daughter relationship. You heard it right, they aren’t a couple. 

Dr B.H. Mckeeby, a close friend of Wood, modeled for the farmer. On the other hand, painter Grant Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, modeled for the daughter. 

Wood could’ve painted an imaginative pair of father and daughter. He could’ve easily put in his imaginative power as other of Grant Wood’s paintings. 

Instead, he chose to paint real people because he wanted to symbolize the pair of father and daughter in the frame more clearly.  

The Pitchfork 

The element of pitch fork in the painting.
Image Source: Wikipedia

A pitchfork is a traditional tool used by farmers to collect loose materials like hay, leaves, or manure. It usually has up to 5 pointed nails along with a long iron handle. 

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The use of a pitchfork in this painting resonates with the fact that the man holding it is a farmer. 

Apart from that, there were a couple of speculations made regarding the inclusion of the pitchfork regarding the meaning of American Gothic painting: 

  • The man is holding it to guard something that’s hidden in the house. 
  • The farmer has just finished his segregation work in the farm and returned back to his house

The element of a pitchfork is embedded quite a few times in this painting. Just to mention some of them:

  • The Window of the house 
  • The shirt and dungaree of the farmer 
  • Even the face of the farmer resembles the pitchfork

Suggested Read: Famous Gothic Paintings

The Mythological Perspective 

The pitchfork painted in this artwork has 3 pointed nails, hence it looks like a trident. Now, trident is considered as a very powerful and holy weapon in Greek and Indian mythology. 

The god of the sea Poseidon, holds the trident as his weapon. As well as Indian God Shiva holds the trident as a symbol of cosmic energy. 

Many art critics say that painter Grant Wood derived inspiration from these two Gods and inculcated the trident and pitchfork in the painting. 

Composition and Analysis

Depth in the painting.
Image Source: Wikipedia

The American Gothic the painting happens to be a complex composition with high precision figurative elements. It happens to be one of the best paintings by Grant Wood.

 It’s a polar opposite of modern European ideas such as abstraction of art and impressionism

This Grant Wood painting includes a blend of modern and classical elements. Just to mention a few of them:

  • Carpenter Gothic Architecture: The starting point of this painting is the Gothic style house in the background which inspired painter Grant Wood to paint it on a canvas. It resonates with a few European chapels because of its pointed tip. 
  • Clothes: The farmer and his daughter can be seen in a classic set of clothes. They resemble actual rural Americana from the early 1900s. 
  • Facial Expressions: The facial expressions of the farmer and his daughter exhibit weird gestures being exchanged. The farmer looks exhausted by his routine task and her daughter is seemingly expecting something from him. 
  • Small Town American Values:  If there’s any feature that created an outrage amongst the art critics, that’s the overall tone of American Gothic the painting. 
  • Tone of the Painting: American artist Grant Wood kept the tone of this painting low-key and humble as he wanted to promote down-to-earth American small town values. However, it received some criticism as well.  
  • Perspective: As an artist who understood the idea of perspective, painter Grant Wood painted both the figures with adequate distancing from the house. The depth of the painting can be witnessed due to this fact. 

Lighting and Color

Paintings with symbolic and expressive color schemes often end up receiving extra attention by the viewers. 

The American Gothic painting happens to be one of them. Since it was produced during the Great Depression period, it symbolized the surrounding dullness. 

Understanding the layered color scheme might turn out to be a bit treacherous at first. But I’m here to simplify things for you: 

  • The overall color scheme looks dull and vague. Hence, it justifies the great depression that had taken place at the time. Also, it shows the lives of Midwestern Americans that were affected by it. 
  • Painter Grant Wood used a very dull and obtuse version of every color incorporated. For instance, dominant colors like black and red are also not able to stand out the blend. 

Colors Used in the American Gothic painting 

Color palette of the American Gothic painting.
Image Source: Wikipedia

Being a figurative painting with an outdoor setting, American Gothic painting is embedded with a variety of colors and their shades. 

There are a few colors that are visually identifiable in American Gothic the painting at a glance such as:

  • Blue – With a tint of white and yellow in order to display the reference of sun 
  • Green – The trees and plants 
  • Black – The coat of the farmer, the tunic of his daughter, and a few tints for the eyebrows 

Natural Lighting 

As the human subjects are positioned in an outdoor environment, hence the elements of lighting happen to be natural. 

The farmer and his daughter also exemplify the element of sunlight in this painting. There’s a slight shadow cast towards the right of the lady. 

The lighting in the American Gothic painting is kept very simple and straightforward. The painting was created with a close shot, which is a half length portrait of both characters, as the artists wanted to expose them to a little light.  

Reception

American Gothic painting represents Americana in its raw form. It was perceived as a mirror reflecting midwestern culture.

However, some art critics refrain from speaking about the hidden spectrum of this painting even today. 

But some consider it as a visual commentary on the aftermath of the Great Depression. Painter Grant Wood has made a very serious attempt to accomplish a visual depiction of the crisis. 

Influence

There are many factors that make American Gothic original paintings one of the most influential paintings from the early 1900s. 

A few of them revolve around the theme it depicts, and some just testify to its prowess in budding pop-culture. 

Being one of the most famous paintings from America, it gained a sheer amount of attention in the 1940-50s era. 

It was applauded for its subtle depiction of regionalism and figurative painting. It emerged as an emblem of American art. 

The Gothic American painting bestowed a spirit of originality among American artists of that time. It broke the barriers of abstract art and emphasized on depicting the rural America through detailed paintings. 

Its Appeal in the 21st Century

Various parodies of the American Gothic painting.
Image Source: Wikipedia

Any artwork of a representational nature is bound to entice various diasporas. So did the American Gothic painting. 

It created an ambiguous appeal among future generations. Apart from its satirical and representational nature, people also viewed it as a theme of parodies. 

Many artists from the Pop-art movement created subtle as well as evocative parodies of the American Gothic painting. 

Some of them included political nuances about the country, and some parodies were just created for a laugh. 

A Branding Emblem for Modern America

Since the painting American Gothic was quite a popular one, many modern brands got inspired by it. 

Many brands used tweaked references to this painting in order to market their products. 

A majority of brands from the lifestyle segment used this painting to showcase their products. 

They highlighted the subtleness of the American Gothic painting as a depiction of midwestern American lifestyle. 

Conclusion

The American Gothic painting revolutionized American art to a very large proportions. 

It not only emphasized on depiction of midwestern Americana, but also shattered foreign ideas of non-figurative art. 

From being a satirical visual commentary on the aftermath of the Great Depression amongst midwestern Americans, to shining as a branding emblem for modern Americana. 

The American Gothic painting broke all the barriers to reach mainstream media. 

It’s not certain that the world will witness an artistic and figurative masterpiece like this again. 

After getting acquainted with the famous painting American Gothic, how about having one hung in your living room?

Don’t worry, it’s not going to cost you a massive sum of money. We can do an exact replica for a few hundred bucks!

Author’s Note 

Hello Readers, 

Finally, you are all here! I thank you all for reading this blog till the end. 

I hope my writing did justice to your curiosity and time. 

If you’re an avid reader of art and aesthetics, then check out our blog page!

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FAQs

1. Who painted the American Gothic painting ?

Famous American painter Grant Wood created the American Gothic painting in 1930.

2. Where is the American Gothic painting now?

The American Gothic painting has been to a couple of places. It has been kept at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago since its creation. However, it traveled to the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 2017 for an exhibition. It came back to Chicago after the exhibition.

3. What is the American Gothic painting’s value?

Grant Wood took the American Gothic painting to an exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1930. Despite being a masterpiece, it only received a bronze medal with $300 in cash. Currently, it’s not for sale, but according to its popularity and influence, it would be worth nothing less than 5 million dollars.

4. Who are the subjects in the American Gothic painting?

The male subject was identified as Dr. Byron Mckeeby, Grant Wood’s family dentist. The woman was identified as Nan Wood Graham, Grant Wood’s sister.

5. How did the creation of American Gothic painting affect Americana?

The production of American Gothic painting elevated the standards of American pop-art drastically. It changed the style of representation of American culture for American artists.

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