Marieta's Retirement Ramblings

“American Gothic” by Thomas Hoving


Subtitle: “The Biography of Grant Wood’s American Masterpiece”

Former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (1967-1977), Thomas Hoving walks the reader through a step-by-step analysis of the famous painting, teaching the reader techniques to use when viewing any painting. He also provides detail about the artist and how the masterpiece fits into Grant Wood’s career.

The book is easy to read, even if the reader is not familiar with the other paintings and artists (mostly European) the author uses for example and comparison. (I simply skimmed past the art I wasn’t familiar with.)

After reading the book I can see the optical illusion in the fork, the reflection of the fork in the overalls, the shadows indicating time of day, the elongated facial ovals and other vertical elements, the oversized hand and long thumb holding the inadequate fork, the lighting rod bulb replicated in the man’s shirt collar button, the ringlet of hair that escaped the tight hairstyle, the rickrack and calico of the woman’s dress, the lace curtains in the window, the common snake plant and begonias on the porch, the stylized background trees, the peaked roof that points to the man and woman, the value of repetition, and many other details I would have never seen. Most importantly I understand the need for the Gothic window and the staunch farmer and woman.

I have found it particularly interesting that Grant Wood felt he needed to copy the impressionists and to study in Europe, then realized he needed to paint what he already knew–the farm life of the Middle West, becoming a leader in the Regionalist movement. Which reminds me, there are even hints of movement in the painting.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it to even the novice art observer wanting to better understand this masterpiece. This book was recommended by the staff at the American Gothic House that I wrote about earlier.

Be sure to read the endnotes. I read them after reading the rest of the book; the endnotes could be distracting if read while enjoying the book.


Hoving, Thomas. “American Gothic, The Biography of Grant Wood’s American Masterpiece.” New York: Chamberlain Bros., a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2005.