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American Gothic is unquestionably Grant Wood’s masterpiece and ranks among the finest portrait paintings of its day and is an icon of American art of the 20th century as well as one of the greatest paintings of Midwest Americana.
The picture depicts a middle-aged couple (usually interpreted as a farmer with either his wife or daughter) standing in front of their home, a wooden farmhouse built in the 1890s architectural style known as Carpenter (or American) Gothic. Little of the background is visible however, because the figures are so close to the viewer. Wood based the farmhouse on Dibble House, a building he saw in the small Iowan town of Eldon, and used his sister Nan (1899–1990) and Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867–1950) his dentist, as models for the couple, dressing them in traditional clothes.
Their resemblance to the stereotypical image of Midwest rural folks, complete with pitchfork and dungarees, led many art critics to interpret the work as a satirical commentary on small-town culture. The two people, living in their sturdy well-crafted wooden house, armed with their down-to-earth qualities of resilience, fortitude and pride, represent those who are most likely to overcome the hardship of the 1930s.
Wood’s free use of “reality” can also be seen by the addition of a barn and by creating a scene—a man and woman posed in front of the house—which never occurred. The models for the artwork never posed together when they were drawn prior to, or during the painting of American Gothic.
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