Grant Wood, Fall Ploughing, 1931.
Figge Art Museum
Since I was unfamiliar with Wood’s work, I will cite the findings of the University of Virginia with confidence. The composition of Wood's landscapes employed modernist tools freely. Trees, hills and people were distinctly streamlined, and the streamlining was employed to the same effect that it was on everything from architecture to automobiles in the 1920s and 30s: it created a sense of vast and easy movement, only in this case it was through an open landscape rather than contained in a piece of machinery.
Grant Wood, Young Corn, 1931.
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.
While growing up, he said he loved the soft, warm soil between his toes as he walked barefoot through the fields. His 1931 work Young Corn depicted the hills as round and friendly. Wood's typically fluffy, impossibly round trees stood solidly against the straight, sharp rows of planting and hay that dipped down into the painting.
Grant Wood, Near Sundown, 1933.
Uni of Kansas
Uni of Kansas
Further, modernist compositions from Sheeler's American Landscape to the houses of the International Style relied heavily on sharp and linear geometry. Wood also employed this kind of geometry in his paintings, not only in the arrangement of the scene, but in the actual execution itself. The sharply retreating lines of crops or trees, interrupted by an angular farmhouse in Fall Ploughing 1931 and Near Sundown 1933 were indicative of Wood's interest in this, as well as the carefully rectangular layout of such paintings as Spring Turning 1936. The regularity found in many of these compositions was a similarly modernist tool.
Art Deco appeared to have been Grant Wood's modernist niche, one he adopted more readily than any other offshoot of modernism. In evolving a style of artificial geometries, clean surfaces and relentless patterns, he was like the Art Deco decorators of his day. Although he surely would not have admitted it readily, the unlikely pairing of modernism and the regionalist Grant Wood bore unexpected fruit.
Grant Wood, Stone City Iowa, 1930.
Joslyn Art Museum Omaha
In my previous post, I thought that bright sunlight and cast shadows in all the landscapes helped to define the natural forms. And importantly, for all the artists, the springy hills left almost no space in the painting for sky. Both these characteristics were equally relevant to Wood.
For a last comparison, look how Grant's British contemporary Paul Nash (1889–1946) remained entranced by the English countryside, recording the hilltops outside Oxford or Swanage in Dorset. He used vivid colours to reflect the heat of summer, or a bouncy tennis ball to display optimism in Event on The Downs 1934.
Paul Nash, Event on the Downs, 1934. Dulwich