Saturday, 4 March 2017

American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930

The Royal Academy was heaving this afternoon, a bit too much shuffling in front of each painting ... and, of course, the biggest crowd was in front of American Gothic which has never before left America. I've never been to Chicago where it lives, and missed my chance to see it in a show in Washington some years ago because I was only there for a couple of days and there was so much to pack in. I used to think it was creepy - a bit Bates Motel - probably because it has spawned so many parodies. Now I see worry - grit - resilience. I'd never noticed the aspidistra and the Swiss cheese plant on the porch or the tendril of hair escaping from that tightly-controlled bun. The models were Wood's sister Nan (who had a more up-to-date hair-do in real life) and his dentist; they are supposed to be father and daughter, not husband and wife.

 Gas, Edward Hopper, 1940

The exhibition covers the decade of the Great Depression when unemployment peaked in at 25.2% in 1933; that's 12.8m people out of work. It's the era of dance marathons for big money prizes - the Dust Bowl and The Grapes of Wrath - and escapism at the movies.

New York Movie, Edward Hopper, 1939
The New York movie is probably Lost Horizon - which the pensive usherette will probably see three times a day for a fortnight. (My mum had a part-time job as an usherette and often groaned about the films she knew by heart.)

Home, Sweet Home, Charles Sheeler, 1931
Apart from the big names - Hopper and Wood, Georgia O'Keeffe (only one) and an early Jackson Pollock - most of the artists in the exhibition were completely new to me; now I'm a fan of Charles Sheeler and his wonderful rugs.

Thanksgiving, Doris Lee, c1935
Complete hoaky ... but I can't resist a rolling-pin. Amazingly, this won first prize at the Art Institute of Chicago's American painting exhibition that year.


It wasn't planned but only last night I finished this 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis; my battered and tea-stained library copy hadn't been checked out since the 1960s but suddenly there's a wait-list for it and, having been re-issued by Penguin for the age of Trump, it's currently no 4 on the paperback bestseller list. To be honest, I won't be hurrying to read any more Sinclair Lewis; his flabby writing style almost had me giving up after 100 pages, but I'm glad I stuck it out - it gets quite gripping by the end as ignorant, demagogic president Buzz Windrip introduces his own brand of terrifying downhome Fascism to America. Aside from his dramatic glory, Buzz Windrip was a Professional Common Man. Oh, he was common enough. He had every prejudice and aspiration of every American Common Man. He believed in the desirability and therefore the sanctity of thick buckwheat cakes with adulterated maple syrup, and the superiooority of anyone who possessed a million dollars. He regarded spats, walking sticks, caviar, titles, tea-drinking, poetry not daily syndicated in newspapers and all foreigners, possibly excepting the British, as degenerate.


Sue said...

I am really looking forward to seeing this exhibition, Mary. And,hoping the crowds will have died down a bit by the time I make it next week. I'd never heard of the book (and, tbh, not sure I'll be needing to read it after your very thorough summing up. Thank you).I'm reading EJH's The Long View at the moment and really enjoying it.Hillary Mantel is so right, it is a mystery why she isn't more lauded and widely read.I'm still baffled by the contrast between her controlled and precisely perfect prose and her rackety out of control personal life.

maryland said...

love your blog, but the plantypants here must add that it's a begonia alongside a sansevieria, he used same in Woman with Plants.

Cosy Books said...

'Thanksgiving' reminds me of Hogarth's paintings with so many things going on. I've had a nice time catching up on your posts, Mary, but the cover on your 10p book find made me laugh. Marketing and cover art has come a long way, hasn't it. Anyway, it's what's inside that really counts...glad to hear you found a gem.

Mary said...

Maybe Friday afternoon isn't the best time to go, Sue - but hope you enjoy it even if it's busy. I've been meaning to re-read The Long View ever since reading the EJH biography last year.

Hello, Maryland. I stand corrected - I'm hopeless on plants! I'd got aspidistra muddled with mother-in-law's tongue which I've just googled and turns out to be another name for sansevieria. And when I managed to find an enlargement - you're right, that's never a Swiss cheese plant! But one website suggested geranium, which it could be?

That cover really says, 'Buy me - and bake lovely brown food', doesn't it, Darlene.

Nicola said...

Oh I'd like to see this exhibition. I love Edward Hopper.

Mary said...

It's quite a small exhibition, Nicola - but I did enjoy it very much. There's only two Hoppers - and he completely outshines everyone else. Did you see that wonderful Hopper exhibition a few years ago?

Veronica Cooke said...

This does look wonderful - I'm in London on Saturday for birthday celebrations but there won't be time to go - another day hopefully.

Mary said...

It's on for months, Veronica - plenty of time - and happy birthday!

Jenny Woolf said...

Ooh, must go to this exhibition. I can't believe I didn't know it was on.

Mary said...

Hello, Jenny - it only opened last week.