Artworks
American Gothic
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Arty Fact

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Contributor

These old fogies again? Like it or not, the grumpy grouches in American Gothic have become synonymous with traditional American values.

And have become the topic of countless parodies, because Americans actually have a lot of fun. We swear!

But who are these mysterious simpletons that have captivated countless audiences and made Wood’s painting one of the most important pieces in American art history? Well, it all started with a little house in Eldon, Iowa, known as both the American Gothic House and the Dibble house. (In my mind) Wood was sauntering down the road daydreaming with not a care in the world. It's Iowa, what else is there to do there, right? When he stumbled upon this quaint little house on the prairie he exclaimed, “What kind of person would live in that adorable thing!” He just had to know. The rest was history.

Completely awestruck by the house, Wood recruited his sister and his dentist to pose for his masterpiece. The painting depicts an elderly farmer with his old maid of a daughter. No doubt the disgrace of a traditional family, this cougar doesn’t look too happy about her life predicament either. This painting is also said to represent 19th century American gender roles. You know, that time not so long ago when women had virtually no rights and men pretty much ran everything. Patriarchy at its best!

This piece was first exhibited at a painting competition at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it came in third place and earned Wood a whopping $300 prize. While $300 doesn’t sound like much for this essentially priceless painting, it was a pretty substantial amount considering we were on the brink of the Great Depression. During these turbulent times, the painting became an important image to the struggling American people. It quickly became an icon of the American pioneer spirit and the true hardworking values of our lovely country. ‘Murica!

Unfortunately for residents, this painting continues to be the only interesting thing about Eldon, Iowa. So interesting in fact, that art history nerds like us at Sartle have been known to journey to this house, dress up in colonial clothing, and take selfies in front of it. Probably fed up with weirdos trespassing on his property, the owner decided to donate his residence to the State Historical Society of Iowa. Since then, each June, the city of Eldon holds its Gothic Days festival. This is a celebration of both the painting and the rustic life of this folksy town. So if you for some reason find yourself in this neck of the woods around then, this festival could be a great chance to get back to your roots and enjoy the inspiration for American Gothic. I mean, what else are you going to do in Iowa?

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Here is what Wikipedia says about American Gothic

American Gothic is a 1930 painting by Grant Wood in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood was inspired to paint what is now known as the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house". It depicts a farmer standing beside his daughter – often mistakenly assumed to be his wife.

The figures were modeled by Wood's sister Nan Wood Graham and their dentist Dr. Byron McKeeby. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron evoking 20th-century rural Americana, and the man is holding a pitchfork. The plants on the porch of the house are mother-in-law's tongue and beefsteak begonia, which are the same as the plants in Wood's 1929 portrait of his mother Woman with Plants.

American Gothic is one of the most familiar images in 20th-century American art and has been widely parodied in American popular culture. In 2016–17, the painting was displayed in Paris at the Musée de l'Orangerie and in London at the Royal Academy of Arts in its first showings outside the United States.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about American Gothic.