Analysis of American Gothic by Grant Wood

Publié le 9 August 2023
Analysis of American Gothic by Grant Wood

Today, Museum TV takes a look back at an extremely popular American work. In fact, it's considered to be the most parodied work in the history of art! Let's take a look at the famous figures in Grant Wood's American Gothic

American Gothic Grant Wood
Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930, Art Institute of Chicago Building

The title

The artist has chosen to call his work 'American Gothic'. The title was obviously not chosen randomly and refers to the architectural style of the house in the background. For the record, Wood spotted a farmhouse while driving through Iowa. He fell in love with the building and decided to paint it. The house was built in what he described as a 'papier-mâché' style. However, he was intrigued by the style of the lancet window, which gave the house a Gothic feel and provided a contrast. He therefore used this house as a backdrop and named his painting 'American Gothic' in reference to this detail.

The house that inspired "American Gothic" by Grant Wood
The house that inspired the painting

Family conflict

Behind this painting lies an argument that's both understandable and funny! No, it is not the two characters who are arguing, although we have to admit that 'happiness' and 'joy' are not the first words that spring to mind when we see the painting...

In reality, the family conflict arises between the painter and his sister...

In fact, the artist asked his dentist to pose as the farmer. And, as you may have guessed, he asked his sister to pose for the part of the wife. When she discovered her brother's painting, all hell broke loose! She was not happy with the depiction, which she considered atrocious.

The picture with the models

The pitchfork

One of the central elements of the painting is obviously the pitchfork holded in the farmer's hand. It has raised a lot of questions. Many interpret it as a sign of hostility, like a threat to ill-intentioned visitors. Some even compare the pitchfork to the Devil. The farmer holds the tool like a weapon, aiming to prevent the Devil from entering his house.

American Gothic Grant Wood

The curtains

Another important detail in the work is the window of the house. If we focus on it, we can see that the curtains at the top of the house are closed. This could indicate mourning. Are the two characters in mourning, having just lost someone close to them? Or are they mourning the current situation in America? Let's not forget that the American countryside was undergoing a serious crisis at the time, leading to a high level of poverty. Many farmers had to give up their properties.

American Gothic Grant Wood

Are we hicks?

Although Wood's work is now considered one of the greatest successes of American art, it wasn't always so. When it was first exhibited, many Iowans and rural dwellers perceived the painting as a mockery of their lifestyle. They felt that the artist had portrayed them as hicks, unkind and unpleasant. It is true that the painting does not present a sympathetic image of farmers, but Grant Wood defended himself by saying that he had in no way intended to ridicule them. On the contrary, his intention was to portray their difficult lifestyle and the challenges surrounding rural life.

They are everywhere!

As the most parodied work in the world, we couldn't resist the pleasure of sharing with you a compilation of all the references to 'American Gothic' in pop culture:

Desperate Housewives
Desperate Housewives theme tune

 The Rocky Horror Picture Show
« The Rocky Horror Picture Show », Jim Sharman, 1975

Mulan , Studios Disney, 1998

Time Magazine Cover, 8th August 1994

You now know everything about this iconic painting from the United States. Visit our streaming platform for all the latest art news!