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Daughters of Revolution
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Sippin’ that Truth Tea with Grant Wood and the DAR.

Nobody would blame you if you looked at this painting and thought, “yikes.” Grant Wood’s depiction of a Daughters of the Revolution tea party looks even less fun than one of Emily Gilmore’s DAR soirees. These are the most formidable of your grandmother’s friends, the ones who see right through your vague answers about boyfriends and school and will DEFINITELY let you know when you’ve laid out the tea set incorrectly.

Grant Wood, like his fellow Regionalist painters, was super into exploring middle America, “the real America” (cue Liz Lemon eye-roll: “that's a nonsense term. All of America is America”). While other painters were livin’ it up in the big city, Wood, like Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, was painting that small town life. But while Benton and Curry were often eager to make everything in rural America look dandy, the atmosphere in Wood’s paintings is sometimes more ambiguous. This is a fact recognized by anyone who’s looked at American Gothic and had an uncomfortable flashback to their most boring and miserable relationship.

The same seems true of Daughters of Revolution: these ladies are not! here! for! your! sh*t! Wood had good reason to paint the women with such unrelenting severity: he and the DAR had a feud of Chrissy Teigen/Piers Morgan proportions. Wood was commissioned to create a stained glass window for a WWI memorial in his home town of Cedar Rapids, and he went to Germany, a leading country in stained-glass making, to source his glass for the project. The local DAR chapter threw a fit, clearly forgetting all about America’s “melting pot” aesthetic and finding Wood’s German glass mega un-patriotic. Wood’s response came with extra salt: he called them a bunch of “Tory gals” and created this tight-lipped portrait of them with a print of the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware in the background - painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze, (gasp) a German! The contrast between the heroic forefathers in Leutze’s painting and these somber dames couldn’t be clearer. So let’s raise our teacups to Grant Wood, creator of one of the best clap backs art history has ever seen. 

Sources

Sources

  1. Wanda M. Corn, Grant Wood, the Regionalist Vision, 1985, cited in Janet Haven, “Going Back to Iowa: The World of Grant Wood” http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ma98/haven/wood/satire.html
  2. Henry Adams, “The Real Grant Wood,” Art & Antiques Magazine, October 2010 http:// www.artandantiquesmag.com/2010/10/the-real-grant-wood/
  3. Unpublished lecture notes: Dr. Tom Normand, Aspects of American Art, University of St Andrews, Spring 2013.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Daughters of Revolution

Daughters of Revolution (1932) is a painting by American artist Grant Wood; he claimed it as his only satire.

Origin

In 1927, Wood was commissioned to create a stained glass window in the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Unhappy with the quality of domestic glass sources, he used glass made in Germany. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) complained about the use of a German source for a World War I memorial, as Germany had been an enemy of the US in that war. They expressed a lingering anti-German sentiment in society, and other people in Cedar Rapids also protested the German source. As a result, the window was not dedicated until 1955.

Wood was said to have described the DAR as "those Tory gals" and "people who are trying to set up an aristocracy of birth in a Republic." Five years later Wood painted Daughters of Revolution, which he described as his only satire. He emphasized the contrast of three aged women in faded dresses framed against the heroic painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware. No doubt he knew that it was painted by a German painter in Germany. Wood depicted his mother's clothing on the models, including a lace collar and amber pin he bought for her in Germany.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Daughters of Revolution.