Born: Anamosa, Iowa
“All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.”
– Grant Wood
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Born in February 1892 in Anamosa, Iowa, Grant Wood lived in Cedar Rapids after the death of his father in 1901.
He first studied at the Minneapolis School of design between 1910 and 1911 and became a professional designer while attending night courses at the University of Iowa and at the Art Institute of Chicago.
At the end of 1915 he gave up designing and returned to Cedar Rapids. After his military service he taught painting and drawing at the public school of Cedar Rapids and visited Paris in 1920 with Marvin Cone. He came back in 1923 to the French capital where he stayed during two years studying at the Académie Julian and also visiting the Italian town of Sorrento.
He visited Europe again in 1928 and notably went to Germany and Holland where he discovered German and Dutch primitive painters to whom he borrowed many facets. Wood was appointed head of the Iowa Works Progress Administration-Federal Arts project in 1934 and also taught at the University of Iowa.
He took part in many exhibitions notably in 1919 with Marvin Cone in Cedar Rapids, at the Galerie Carmine in Paris in 1926, at the Lakeside Press Galleries in Chicago and at the Ferargil Galleries in New York in 1935. In addition, many retrospectives were held after his death at the Annual Exhibition of American Painting at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1942, at the Municipal Art Gallery of Davenport in 1957, at the University of Kansas in 1959, at the Art Institute of Chicago and the M.H de Young Memorial Museum of San Francisco in 1995-96, at the Joslyn Art Museum of Omaha and at the Museum of Art of Worcester, Mass.
With Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry, who died prematurely in 1946, Wood represented the painters of “The American Scene” also known as the school of Regional American Landscape. These artists represented rural life in the U.S in the tradition of European masters.
They enjoyed success in 1930 during the Great Depression when the public found some intellectual and moral comfort during troubled times. Wood was trying to induce the birth of a true American national art. he even wrote a manifesto, “Revolt against the City” in 1935 calling for a renaissance of American art which he found too dependent on European art, especially French art notably in the field of abstract painting. He wanted to regroup regional schools in order to develop a new form of realistic painting.
Success came late for Wood who spent his life in his native Iowa where he found his inspiration and subjects. At the start of his career he was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement and then painted in a manner that could be compared to those of John Sloan, Edward Hopper, Edouard Vuillard or Utrillo.
Wood changed his style in 1928 as seen with “American Gothic”, his masterpiece produced in 1930, which became a much popular painting in the U.S.
It represented a couple of farmers in front of their house built in the “gothic carpenter” style. Such painting revealed the influence of German and Dutch primitive painters regarding the minute treatment of details, notably in the architecture of the farm. It symbolised the life of pioneers.
Wood painted the people and landscapes of the Middle West in an idealised way, inspired by his personal universe filled with tales and legends thus paying homage to those people who worked hard without bothering about earning money.
Wood worked also in a style reminiscent of Holbein but added satirical if not surrealistic elements in his works, notably in “Parson Weems’ Fable” produced in 1930, which evoked the famous history of George Washington when he admitted being at fault in front of his father after cutting a cherry tree.
Wood painted George Washington with the head of the first portrait of the U.S president produced by Gilbert Stuart while Parson Mason Locke, the teller, was placed in the right of the painting opening a curtain on the scene. Such humorous interpretation shocked many patriots. He also caused some uneasiness with his “Daughters of the Revolution” painted in 1932, in which he represented three unattractive ladies looking distrustful and posing in front of Emmanuel Leutz’s painting “Washington crossing the Delaware”. Such satirical painting was painted after Wood had a quarrel with some women in charge of a memorial for the veterans of the First World War
The public progressively turned its back on the painters of the “American Scene” when the economic crisis was over. Such indifference deeply affected Wood who died at 50 after trying to start a new career under another name.
His works are now rated between US $ 100,000 and $1,500,000.