Everyone knows American Gothic, which, great though it is, is in some ways slightly unrepresentative of Wood’s work, although it absolutely captures a certain Midwest ambience – Wood was basically an Iowan to the end of his days (1942, aged 51, pancreatic cancer), although he had a most eclectic approach to art – visiting Europe and soaking up Northern Renaissance masterpieces, amongst others.
In landscape terms though I present three. Two had the ‘wow’ factor when I first saw them, but the first is a deceptively simple pastorale which is almost abstract in what it depicts, Spring Turning:
Completely original and in its own way, very influential.
The next is a dark fable neatly trapped in the confines of a rectangular frame, Death on the Ridge Road. You could view this simply as an almost cartoonish reflection on the burgeoning spate of motor vehicle deaths as America industrialised and became richer, or just as easily you can turn it in on itself, like this author did: To deepen and nuance the scholarly understanding of this painting, depictions of automobiles and nature within the image are closely considered, focusing on the metaphorical content they express. This analysis regards questions about what cars and nature meant to Americans at this time. How might cars represent manhood in Wood’s painting? If they are a vehicle for gender identity, might their placement and movement in the image suggest the struggle for acceptance that homosexuals faced generally, and Wood may have faced specifically?
You decide. It is a brilliant composition, delivered with great technical assurance.
Lastly, the earliest of the three, an epic, cinematic snapshot of a key moment in American history – Wood is one of the most instinctively American of painters. I still marvel at the perspective – a precursor of drone photography – the New England neatness, the perfect evocation of night, and the arcadian landscape disappearing behind the buildings, those perfect trees. Paul Revere himself is almost incidental – shades there of Bruegel’s Icarus, a feature not lost on WH Auden.