Biography of Famous American Painter and Artist Grant Wood

About the famous American painter Grant Wood, biography and history of the Iowan artist.

Grant Wood (1892-1942). He was hailed as an Iowa Moses who had come to lead American art into the Promised Land. His painting achieved fame partially because his cardboardstiff style and his use of hard-working farm people for models was easily satirized.

A simple man, indigenous to Iowa, Wood was admired by his neighbors as perhaps no other American artist has been in his own community. Earlier he had tried to break with tradition, fleeing to Paris where he studied Impressionism. After a few unproductive years, he returned to Cedar Rapids to teach fine arts at the local high school and to attend the Art Institute. His benefactor and sponsor was the local undertaker, David Turner. Turner induced Wood to quit teaching, redecorated a loft as a home for him and his mother, bought his paintings, and managed his affairs. Cedar Rapids soon became proud of the artist in its midst. His home became a cultural center--a sort of "Greenwich Village of the Cornbelt." A commission for a stained-glass window in an American Legion post sent Wood to Munich in 1928. This trip was probably the high point of his career, for it was here he studied the work of German and Flemish painters and discovered that their precision in line technique fitted perfectly with his own needs. Wood believed that simple subjects, viewed realistically, can be beautiful. Upon his return to Iowa he attempted to paint his neighbors and his family with the same fidelity he had admired in the European masters. However, because his stained-glass window had been made in Germany, it was rejected. Success came with American Gothic (1930), and Daughters of Revolution, which Wood always called "those Tory gals."

The artist began sketching his best-known painting, American Gothic, as early as 1928 when he discovered the Gothic-style house while strolling in the small town of Eldon. He later learned this was a brothel. Wood's sister Nan and her dentist-friend, Dr. B. H. McKeeby, reluctantly posed for the painting after Wood assured them that they would not be recognized. Dr. McKeeby was unhappy about the painting, and for 5 years would neither admit nor deny he had been one of the models.

When the picture appeared at the Chicago Art Institute's annual exhibition in 1930, it caused a sensation and was awarded the Harris Prize. It was bought by the Art Institute for $300--a price which was fixed at the time it was entered.

When Wood was 44, he married an older woman. But success and critical acclaim had gone to the artist's head. He was unhappy until the marriage ended in divorce. Many who had previously praised his work began to criticize it. He found himself in debt again, lectured for high prices, and tried to write. Once he was freed from marriage, he staged a comeback and discovered new ways of working. He took advantage of the fact that he had nothing to lose--he determined to do the kind of work he liked and to strive for greater recognition. He looked even harder for "striking" qualities and used ever-stronger emphasis and satire. He was productive until cancer ended his life in 1942.

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