Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Grant Wood

Grant Wood was an American artist He was born in Anamosa, Iowa on February 13, 1891. His family moved to Cedar Rapids in 1901.After graduating high school he enrolled in art school in Minneapolis. He returned to Cedar Rapids a year later to teach. In 1913 he enrolled the School of Art Institute in Chicago and worked as a silversmith.
Between 1920 and 1924 he made four trips to Europe. He immersed himself in various styles of art, especially Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. But the artist who influenced him the most was Jan van Eyck. (see May 23 posting)
In 1932 Grant Wood helped found the Stone City Art Colony which was located near his hometown. The idea behind the colony was to help artists get through the Great Depression.He also began lecturing throughout the country on "regionalism in the arts"
Wood taught painting at the University of Iowa's School of Art from 1934 until he died. He supervised mural projects, mentored students, produced his own works, and become an important part of the University's cultural life. On February 12, 1942 he died of liver cancer.
Besides paintings, Grant Wood produced a large number of works in various other mediums, including charcoal, lithography, ceramics, metal, and wood. In order to have a steady source of income, he often did advertisements for many Iowa-based businesses. He designed the stained glass windows for the Veterans Memorial Building in Grand Rapids.

Regional was a movement that was primarily in the Midwest and advanced figurative painting of rural American themes in a rejection of European abstractism. There were three artists in the forefront of the movement: Grant Wood, John Steuart Curry, (right: Tornado Over Kansas) and Thomas Hart Benton. (left: Parks, the Circus, the Klan, and the Press)

Wood's best known painting is American Gothic (top)painted in 1930.It is probably the most famous painting in American art. A painting which has become a cultural icon like the Mona Lisa and The Scream (by Edvard Munch). It was first exhibited in 1930 at the Art Institute of Chicago where it still hangs. It brought Wood instant recognition (and a $300 prize). Since then it has been used in hundreds of advertisements, satires, and cartoons. Art critics who liked the painting (e.g Gertrude Stein, Christopher Morley) assumed that it was meant to satirize rural small-town life, portraying it as narrow-minded and repressive. The trend to criticize rural America (and Middle America) began in the early part of the 20th century with such works of literature as Winesburg, Ohio (1919) by Sherwood Anderson and Main Street (1920)by Sinclair Lewis. Wood denied this interpretation.

Wood was inspired by a cottage in Eldon, Iowa. The house's architecture was "Gothic Revival" thus the title of the painting.Wood decided to paint the house along with"the kind of people I fancied should live in that house." The painting depicts a farmer and his spinster daughter. The models were Wood's dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867-1950), and Wood's sister Nan (1900-1990).
The severity and detailed technique were inspired by Northern Renaissance paintings which Grant had seen on his trips to Europe. Eventually he became aware of the Midwest's own legacy which also plays a huge part in this painting.
Personally, I did not know much about Grant Wood nor his work until doing this posting. American Gothic is the only painting of his that I knew. I have discovered that I like some of his work a lot. I find his Paul Revere's Ride (right) particularly interesting. It appears three-dimensional, like a village in a miniature railroad scene. The other painting below is Young Corn

Link to the Cedar Rapids Museum www.crma.org/Content/Grant_Wood/Default.aspx

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was born on September 29, 1571 in Milan, Italy. He is considered the first great artist of the Baroque period. He is known for highly emotional paintings and his dramatic use of lighting. He is considered one of the greatest European artists.
Caravaggio's life was as dramatic and intense as his art. Contemporaries regarded him warily; his reputation was of a rebel - enigmatic and even dangerous. He never lacked for commissions and made a good living with his art. But he was always ready for a fight and others found him difficult to get along with. In 1606 he killed a young man in a brawl and had to leave Rome in exile. Over the next four years there were other brawls and possible attempts on his life.On July 18, 1610 he died, supposedly from a fever.
Caravaggio arrived in Rome in 1592 (after quarrels and a wounding of a policeman in Milan). He arrived with nothing but in a few short months he was working with
a successful painter, Giuseppe Cesari.His earliest known painting is Boy Peeling a Fruit .He was very particular and detailed in his work. The painting Boy with a Basket of Fruit (right)has been analyzed by a professor of horiculture who was able to identify individual cultivars right down to "... a large fig leaf with a prominent fungal scorch
lesion resembling anthracnose.*
In 1594 he went out on his known and met some highly influencial people. His painting The Cardsharps attracted the attention of Cardinaldel Monte, who was one of the leading connoisseurs in Rome. Caravaggio produced several music themed works at the request of the Cardinal and his friends.
He then began a series of religious works. While artists at that time painted the human figure in a sort of perfect or superhuman way, Caravaggio preferred to paint them realistically, as they would be seen walking down the street, flaws and all. His reputation as artist was on the rise.
Caravaggio was now just one step away from the success he was hoping for - public commissions. For that he he needed to be noticed by the Church. In 1599 he was contracted to decorated the Contarelli Chapel in the church of San Luigi del Francesi. Two works make up this commission: the Martyrdom of Saint Matthew and the Calling of Saint Matthew (see painting at top) which were finished in 1600. They were an immediate sensation.
Most other artists were taken with this new artist. Some faulted him for painting from life and not using drawings but for the most part he was now a star. He began receiving a stream of commissions. They were usually religious works but they featured violent scenes, decapitations, torture, and death. Some were rejected and had to be redone or find new buyers.
While his dramatic execution of a subject was admired, the realistic way he portrayed them was not. His first version of Saint Matthew and the Angel portrayed St.Matthew as a bald peasant in a torn shirt with dirty legs.This had to be redone and was renamed The Inspiration of St. Matthew.
After his exile from Rome in 1606, he traveled from place to place, often beiong forced to leave. In 1608 he spent time in prison for assault. He still received commissions though. His style began to change and more often than not his paintings depicted lonely, shadowy figures. They show the fraility of man while at the same time show the beauty of humility.

While the technique of chiaroscuro was used by painters for a long time before Caravaggio, it was he that perfected it. Chiaroscuro is a term meaning contrast between darkness and light. Caravaggio darkened the shadows and placed the subject in a blinding shaft of light. Somehow through this technique he was able to capture both the physical and the psychological reality of his subjects. For instance, the look on the face of St. Peter shows the guilt and pain of the denial, even before Peter has admitted it to himself. In the Calling of St. Matthew, St. Matthew points to himself as if saying "who me?" yet at the same time there is a look on his face that says he knows he is going with this man. Caravaggio somehow was able to capture this.
Above - The Conversion of St. Paul
Below: left - The Denial of Saint Peter; right - The Supper at Emmaus

Below: Caravaggio's last painting The Martyrdom of St. Ursula

*Caravaggio's Fruit: A Mirror on Baroque Horiculture (Jules Janick, Department of Horiculture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana)