Grant Wood did not consider any of his works to be satire — except one.
When he painted “Daughters of Revolution,” it was with his tongue firmly in cheek. Irony is evident in the oil painting he produced in 1932 at his studio at 5 Turner Alley in Cedar Rapids.
The story began in 1927 — before Wood became famous for “American Gothic.”
The last contract let for the construction of the new Veterans Memorial Building was for a memorial stained glass window to be installed between the Second Avenue entrances. The contract set aside $9,000 for Wood for glass, design and decorating, everything but setting the glass.
He drew the plans for the window — 24 feet high and 20 feet wide — in his studio, then gained permission to use the gym at the Quaker Oats plant to lay out a life-size working drawing. The size of the room enabled Wood to view his creation from atop a tall wooden scaffold.
When the time came to construct the actual window, Wood, who knew nothing of stained glass artistry, decided the artisans capable of creating the masterpiece were in Munich, Germany. He spent more than a year in Germany directing the window’s construction and learning the craft.
The window, completed in 1928, was shipped home and installed in the Veterans Memorial Building on March 9, 1929.
The installation was without fanfare, and no dedication for the masterpiece was scheduled. The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution was upset that Wood had used German workers to create the window, given that Germany had been an enemy of the United States in World War I just a decade before.
While in Germany, Wood, who had been painting in a popular French style, discovered a different style. He saw the works of primitive medieval artists who painted Bible stories in terms of their own experience, their own families and neighbors.
He carried that home with him. His first painting in his new style was “Woman with Plants,” a 1929 portrait of his mother. Not long after, in 1930, “American Gothic” captivated the world.
Confident in his growing popularity and fame and still piqued because his beautiful window had not been recognized, Wood aimed his paintbrush at the group he held responsible for the slight.
“Daughters of Revolution” was the result.
review of ‘daughters’
Gazette writer Adeline Taylor visited 5 Turner Alley in late September 1932, where the work was nearing completion. She described the “rectangular canvass, its title boldly displayed on the star-decorated mat” this way:
“Hanging in the background of the panel is a perfect reproduction, done in blue-gray monotones, of that familiar scene ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware.’ The foreground is taken up with the heads and shoulders of three women equal in size to the figures in ‘American Gothic.’ Such smooth, smug, self-satisfaction is portrayed there that one almost blushes at looking so closely into bared souls. At left is the aristocrat — primly neat, nice and proper. Beside her is the climber, hanging on to her prestige by a finger crooked over a teacup. To the right is the female Stonewall Jackson — the political dictator and troublemaker of the crowd. They are gems — startling enough to be suppressed in good old Boston.
“The inimitable Grant Wood detail is there — not rickrack and percale but a crocheted lace collar so perfectly reproduced that you could take the pattern from it, a brooch you want to unpin and examine, a flower-patterned dress silk — and the arched fingers on the teacup.
“The trick in the admiration of ‘Daughters’ is not to appreciate it too comfortably — that is, if you are in a position to snicker instead of snort — for you can’t tell when your pet project might bask in the same light. ...
“Grant Wood seems to enjoy taking a stroll where even artists have feared to tread. ‘Gothic’ blazed the gateway to this path, but ‘Daughters’ turns it into a highway. There was a time when paintings were not even supposed to suggest titles, never mind incorporating them into the picture. But one has an idea that there is nothing this Iowan enjoys more than creating his own little revolution.”
Wood told Taylor, “I’d rather have people rant and rave against my painting than pass it up with ‘Isn’t that a pretty picture?’ “
Wood’s use of Emanuel Leutze’s famous painting of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” as a background for “Daughters of Revolution” left little room to doubt he was poking fun at the Daughters of the American Revolution.
During the Bicentennial celebration of George Washington’s birth, the DAR had discovered the painting of their much-revered Washington rolled up in storage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They were indignant and insisted the art work be displayed prominently.
Ironically, Leutze, a native German, painted it in 1851 in Düsseldorf, Germany, using German models.
In addition, Wood has the spinster in the center of the painting holding an English Blue Willow teacup.
movie star buys it
“Daughters of Revolution” was sold to actor Edward G. Robinson not long after its uproarious introduction to the world.
It returned to Cedar Rapids for a special art exhibit at Coe College in 1954, which included Wood’s original pencil drawing of the painting, a gift to Coe by Owen Elliott, chairman of the Coe board of trustees.
The Gazette reported that, as part of Robinson’s divorce settlement in 1957, the original “Daughters” was sold to Greek shipping tycoon Stavros Niarchos. It was subsequently acquired by the Cincinnati Art Museum.
As for that stained glass window at Veterans Memorial Building, it was finally dedicated in 1955, long after Wood’s death in 1942. His sister, Nan Wood Graham, and brother, Frank, attended the dedication, which coincided with an exhibit of Wood’s paintings at the art gallery in the public library.
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