November 1, 2002
MYSTERIES SEPARATED BY FIVE CENTURIES:American Gothic, Grant Wood (1930) (Jonathan Jones, May 18, 2002, The Guardian)
Wood's often dreamlike paintings recall the stories of Washington Irving, imagining a small-town world that is comforting and enclosed yet could easily be the stage for spooky nocturnal mayhem. His painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (1931), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, despite its nationalist theme, is an eerie vision of a lonely rider hurtling through an ivory-coloured slumbering town by moonlight.
Subject: The models, dressed in clothes dating from the 1890s, are Wood's sister, Nan, and their dentist, BH McKeeby of Cedar Rapids. They pose in front of an 1880s wood-frame house - which still exists as a tourist attraction in the Iowa town of Eldon - built in the American Gothic or Carpenter's Gothic style.
Distinguishing features: They are keeping us out of their world rather than showing it off. The close-packed bodies of the 19th-century farmer and his spinster daughter played by Nan and McKeeby form a wall between us and the white wooden house. [...]
Inspirations and influences: Jan van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434) is a model for this painting, as a double domestic portrait and as a mystery.
Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck (1434) (Jonathan Jones, April 15, 2000, The Guardian)
People said Van Eyck was an alchemist, and no wonder. There is some enchantment about this painting, the way it seems to act as a window on a real room. It has become more, not less, mysterious as art historians have attempted to establish its context. There have been many classic interpretations, including an analysis by Erwin Panofsky arguing that it was painted as a legal document witnessing a marriage. It is now known all of these arguments were based on a misrecognition of the picture. It was always thought to be of the merchant Giovanni di Arrigo Arnolfini and his bride Giovanna Cenami. Recently, a document turned up showing they did not marry until 14 years after this picture was done. It is not them.
So much modern art is intentionally obscure, there's a delightful irony in the enduring mystery of these two seemingly straightforward and realistic works. Posted by Orrin Judd at November 1, 2002 10:39 PM