Why The Painting American Gothic Is Called That?

Painting of American Gothic with woods and his wife

One of America’s most iconic paintings is Grant Woods’ 1930s American Gothic. This painting is perhaps one of the most famous American paintings.

The American Gothic painting is named after the gothic-style windows Grant Wood found on a small house in Eldon, Iowa. To him, these gothic-style windows seemed out of place for such a small house in a rural setting; gothic windows were usually reserved for churches.

Why The Painting Is Called American Gothic

Grant Wood (1891 -1942), the iconic American Gothic painting artist, rarely explained his work and did not clarify much about the painting. But we do know that this painting is based upon an actual house in Eldon, Iowa.

He calls his painting American Gothic as the original house with Gothic-style windows. Today, you can visit Eldon, Iowa, and see the American Gothic house known as the Dibble House. The original portion of the house contains two Gothic windows. One is at the front, and one is at the back. This house was initially built from 1881 to 1882 by Catherine and Charles Dibble.

Here is what we do know about this famous America Gothic house:

  • The original portion of the American Gothic house contains two Gothic windows. One is at the front, and one is at the back. This house was initially built from 1881 to 1882 by Catherine and Charles Dibble.
  • In the summer of 1930, this famous house was seen by Grant Wood. when he was visitng there for an art exhibition in Eldon. The art exhivition was arranged by Edward Rowan, the Director of an Cedar Rapids art gallery. Rowan believed that art should be taken to remote areas, so he brought some art and artists to the small town of Eldon, lowa.
  • During his visit, Grant Wood spotted this tiny house with the Gothic windows. When he saw the house, he asked the car in was in to stop so that he could make a sketch of the house.
  • A year later, when Grant Wood was asked why he was so fascinated with the house, he said he found the Gothic-style windows so amusing and pretentious for such a small house.
  • We know from that the gothic-style windows on this tiny house was what are caught Grant Wood’s eye and inspired his painting.
  • We do not know why Catherine and Charles Dibble chose to have a gothic style windows on the 2nd floor of their home; a gothic style window was more closely associated with a church than a home, especially such a small home in rural lowa.
  • It is believed the gothic-style windows were purchased from the Sears Roebuck catalog.

The name for the American Gothic came from the window styles on this small Dibble House in Eldon, Iowa. Grant Woods found the windows very pretentious and almost comical.

We know that Woods wanted to do a painting or portrait of Midwestern” types” of people he saw. This pretentious little house and the windows caught his attention for this painting and inspired him to paint the American Gothic painting.

The gothic-style windows of the original house and the paintings are not the same. Woods sketched the house on-site and then went back to his studio to paint the final painting.

About The American Gothic Painting

American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood
American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood

Grant Wood is the American painter of the American Gothic (1930). He is an artist the represents regionalism, and his painting of the American Gothic has become an iconic example of 20th century American Art.

Many feel that his painting of the American Gothic was realistic, but the truth is that it was not, as Grant Wood added elements to the painting:

Here are some of the changes that he made.

  • The man and woman being placed in front of their house was based on the concept that traveling photographers used in the late 19th and early 20th century; the photographer would often place the subjects in front of their homes to photograph them. The man and woman in this painting did not own this house, nor were they even associated with this house in anyway.
  • The painting has a barn in the picture, but the original house has no barn. Woods added the barn to possibly give the feel that the house was a farm.
  • The two models for the painting were his dentist Dr. B.H. Mc Keeby and his sister Nan Wood Graham. When you look at a photo of Nan, you can see that Wood purposely elongated her face.
  • The two models never sat together or stood together for the painting, but they were painted separately.

We know that Woods did not do anything haphazardly in this painting. Every detail was thought out as to its significance—everything from the pitchfork to the clothes they were wearing.

Upon closer examination, you can see that Woods repeated many patterns in the paintings. From the pitchfork shape repeated in the man’s overalls to repeat patterns on the house and the curtains.

Another aspect of the painting that many people wonder about is why the husband and wife in the American Gothic painting are not smiling, and they seem to be so serious and almost ill-humored. Their expressions would not have been too different from many of the photographs taken during this time. The photographer would usually encourage people not to smile because, at the time, the camera film had a long exposure time frame.

The American Gothic remains one of the most iconic paintings of the 20th Century. It is a painting that shows us a glimpse into American midwestern life.

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Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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Why The Painting American Gothic Is Called That?