Grant Wood

U.S. 1891-1942
Self Portrait 65.0001

By the early 1930s, Wood's art had come to typify what the dealer Maynard Walker termed regionalism, "American art that springs up from American soil and seeks to interpret American life." As Thomas Hart Benton observed, "a play was written for us and a stage erected for us. Grant Wood became the typical Iowa small towner, John Curry the typical Kansas farmer, and I just an Ozark hillbilly. We accepted our roles." Their "roles" were symptomatic of the isolationism prevalent in the 1930s during the Great Depression and made a place for a "home-grown" landscape that was nostalgic, accessible, and peaceful. However, these artists who perpetuated the image of stereotypical Midwestern life all had formative experiences in Europe and were heavily influenced by European art. Prior to his trip to Munich in 1928 portrait painting was relatively unimportant to Wood, but after studying Northern European paintings at the Alte Pinakothek, particularly paintings by van Eyck, Memling, and Holbein, Wood began to use various fifteenth-century stylistic techniques (one-point perspective, simplification of large forms, minute details, aloof approach, hard-edged delineation). This was matched by a satirical look at his sitters and an element of social criticism. Wood's complex relationship with European art is evident in his own self portrait, an image built up of oil glazes on wood panel-a method used by northern European and Renaissance masters, that also incorporates the technique of pointillism, made popular by Seurat. Wood has placed himself, not in his studio, but in front of an Iowa landscape replete with corn shocks and a windmill, symbols of rural Iowa.




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