The Iowa painter Grant Wood, along with
Grant Wood’s early biographer Darrell Garwood identified Haying and
Darrell Garwood, Artist in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood (New York, 1944; repr. Westport, CT, 1971), 222.
“Grant Wood Completes Two Paintings for Arts Festival,” Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 16, 1939.
Although Haying and New Road were inspired by views Wood saw during his travels between Iowa City and Lake Macbride, they are representative examples of the idealized landscapes of rural Iowa that Wood first painted in Stone City, Iowa
In addition to the landscapes mentioned in the text, other closely related examples are Young Corn (1931, Cedar Rapids Art Center, IA), Fall Plowing (1931, John Deere Administration Building, East Moline, IL), and Spring Plowing (1932, private collection).
Grant Wood, Revolt Against the City (Iowa City, IA, 1935), 28–29. Wood was well informed about Iowa's status. According to Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State Compiled and Written by the Federal Writer’s Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Iowa (Iowa City, IA, 1938), 65, the state possessed the “largest proportion of arable land of all states, the number of farms is estimated at 221,986 with a combined average of 34,359,000 acres.” Agriculture was the state's main industry, and at the time “the population of 31 of the 99 counties is entirely rural and in only 14 counties do the urban groups (people living in cities of over 2,500 population) exceed the rural.”
Heath Schenker, “Picturing the Central Valley,” Landscape 32 (1994): 8; see also the pamphlet that accompanied the exhibition Barn Again, National Building Museum, Washington, DC, 1994, NGA curatorial files.
Despite Wood’s regionalist convictions and advocacy of American subjects and artistic styles, European influences are discernable in his mature oeuvre. Wood was familiar with the contemporary Neue Sachlichkeit painters in Germany, who practiced various forms of detailed realism and whose work he had seen during his 1928 trip to Munich.
The influence of Neue Sachlichkeit painting on Wood was first discussed by Horst W. Janson, “The International Aspects of Regionalism,” College Art Journal 2 (May 1943): 110–115.
Wood's interest in early northern European painting is discussed throughout Wanda M. Corn, Grant Wood, The Regionalist Vision (Minneapolis, MN, 1983).
Although Wood has generally been considered a conservative realist, his habit of reducing landscapes into a series of simplified, ornamental, abstract, repeating patterns demonstrates a familiarity with modernism and art deco design.
For a discussion of Wood's relationship with modernism, see James M. Dennis, “Grant Wood's Native-Born Modernism,” in Brady M. Roberts, James M. Dennis, James S. Horns, and Helen Mar Parkin, Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed (Davenport, IA, 1995), 43–63.
Brady M. Roberts, James M. Dennis, James S. Horns, and Helen Mar Parkin, Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed (Davenport, IA, 1995), 3.
Grant Wood to Reeves Lewenthal and Maurice Liederman, June 29, 1939, Associated American Artists Records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Wood characterized the verdant Iowa landscape as an idyllic land of plenty and gave no indication in his paintings of the severe economic problems and natural disasters that beset Iowa farmers during the 1930s. Haying betrays no evidence of severe soil depletion and erosion, declining crop prices, the problems engendered by tenant farming, the fact that many farm owners were overburdened with heavy mortgages and threatened with foreclosure, manifestations of labor unrest among the farmers, the mass exodus of Iowans to other states, and the many farmers who abandoned their agricultural lifestyle and sought a better livelihood in growing urban industrial centers.
For a brief summary of Iowa's economic woes, see Iowa: A Guide to the Hawkeye State Compiled and Written by the Federal Writer's Project of the Works Progress Administration for the State of Iowa (Iowa City, IA, 1938), 59–60 and 67–68.
Grant Wood, Revolt Against the City (Iowa City, IA, 1935), 33.
Describing the work of these two Texas regionalists, Edward Lucie-Smith, American Realism (London, 1994), 108, noted: “Both artists painted memorable images of drought-stricken landscapes which make Wood's work in this genre look decorative and complacent.”
James Dennis has explained this phenomenon by citing Wood’s populist belief that the farmer was a virtuous, pure, and self-sufficient tiller of the soil who was immune from corrupting influences. This idealized view of rural life had its origins in the late 19th century. During the 1930s, isolationist, nationalist agrarians revived this attitude in response to the growing encroachment of urbanization into the American heartland.
James M. Dennis, Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture (New York, 1975), 210–211.
James M. Dennis, Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture (New York, 1975), 222.
Despite their disarmingly benign and seemingly straightforward appearance, landscapes such as Haying and New Road are complex, carefully orchestrated works full of ambiguities and inconsistencies that reveal much about Wood’s unique brand of regionalism. If New Road depicts the country in 1939 as literally and figuratively approaching a crossroads, a fateful turning point between the calamities of the Great Depression and what would prove to be the even more ominous, existential challenges of World War II, the irregular patterning of the fields in Haying presents the same moment as even more intricate and mazelike. The corked water jug resting in the shadows at the elbow of an L-shaped row in the foreground beckons the viewer to begin their journey through the painting’s labyrinth of hay. Like a traveler at a crossroads, a decision must be made to go to the right or to the left.
August 17, 2018
lower left, the "c" a copyright symbol: c GRANT / WOOD / 1939
The artist; sold to Irwin [1880-1953] and Clara R. Sax [1889-1981] Strasburger, White Plains, New York, by 1944; bequest 1982 to NGA.
- Fine Arts Festival, Memorial Union, University of Iowa, Cedar Rapids, 1939.
- John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood: A Portrait of Rural America, Cedar Rapids Art Center; Edwin A. Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita State University; Museum of Art and Archaeology, University of Missouri-Columbia, 1981, fig. 149.
- America in Transition: Benton and His Contemporaries, 1920-1940, Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts, 1985.
- Extended loan for use by Vice President and Mrs. George Bush, Vice President's House, Washington, D.C., 1987-1989.
- Loan to display with permanent collection, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 1990-1991.
- One-Hundredth Birthday Anniversary Celebration, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 1991.
- Barn Again, National Building Museum, Washington, D.C., 1994, no catalogue.
- Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; Davenport Museum of Art, Iowa; Worcester Art Museum, Massachusetts, 1995-1996, no. 55, pl. 9.
- Double Lives: American Painters as Illustrators, 1850-1950, Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford; New Britain Museum of American Art, 2008-2009, unnumbered catalogue.
- Grant Wood and the American Farm, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, 2016, no catalogue.
- Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2018, no. 96, repro.
- Garwood, Darrell. Artist in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood. (New York, 1944) Reprint Westport, CT, 1971: 222, 254.
- Dennis, James M. Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture. New York, 1975: 93-94, color pl. 35.
- Czestochowski, Joseph S. John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood: A Portrait of Rural America. Columbia, MO, 1981: fig. 149.
- American Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 384, repro.
- Schenker, Heath. “Picturing the Central Valley.” Landscape 32, no. 2 (1994): 8, repro.
- Roberts, Brady M., James M. Dennis et al. Grant Wood: An American Artist Revealed. Exh. cat. Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, NE; Davenport Museum of Art, IA, and the Worcester Art Museum, MA, 1995-1996. Davenport and San Francisco, 1995: 3, 73, color pl. 9.
- Haskell, Barbara, and Glenn Adamson. Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables. Exh. cat. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2018: 30, color pl. 96.