American Gothic: a state visit to Britain for the first couple

The US’s most famous, and most parodied painting is about to visit London for the first time. We examine the many interpretations of Grant Wood’s masterpiece

American Gothic – the long-faced couple standing sentry before their wooden house in apron and overalls, pitchfork in hand – is the most famous painting in American art. It is instantly recognisable to millions of people from Oregon to Osaka who hardly know its name, still less that of the painter.

In its comparatively short life (it was made in 1930), Grant Wood’s masterpiece has become one of those rare paintings that are constantly quoted in spoofs, advertisements, movies and cartoons, so familiar they can be readily invoked in a quick sketch or even just by one detail, such as the arched window. Even if we do not know its title, American Gothic is by now as proverbial as the Mona Lisa, The Starry Night and The Scream, a point not lost on parodists who have Photoshopped Van Gogh’s stars into the Iowan skies above that pointed roof, introduced Leonardo’s Lisa into the family romance and even married Grant Wood with Edvard Munch. A Gothic Scream flipbook is available – two for the price of one – that morphs the stern midwestern farmer into the Norwegian screecher.

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