Earlier this year, two small travel paintings by Grant Wood went up for sale at an auction in Florida. Although they are not the regional subject matter people have come to expect from Wood’s work, these lovely paintings showcase his style while traveling abroad during the 1920’s. Greg, a longtime client of The Center and a collector of American Regionalism art for many years, couldn’t pass on the opportunity to buy these two Wood paintings. “I bought them sight unseen and had them shipped directly to The Conservation Center, as I knew you would do a wonderful job making sure all was well and in order with them.”
Grant Wood (1891-1942) was well known as the spokesperson for American Regionalism, a movement that would go on to influence other American artists such as Norman Rockwell. Though the idea was not his brainchild, he embodied its methods, rejecting the abstract art of Europe during that time. This style of painting was meant to depict the local areas the artist lived in or around, acting as a statement to the region. As most artists could not afford the luxury of traveling abroad to Europe in the 1920’s, they painted what was familiar and available to them. However, Wood was able to travel through Europe several times between 1920-1926, where he observed Impressionist and Post-Impressionistic styles. Upon his return to the Midwest, it was actually the Flemish Renaissance style of art that seemed to have greatly influenced his painting style. Where many of us recognize Wood’s gothic style from paintings such as American Gothic, it is his landscape paintings from Sorrento, Italy that leads our topic for conservation this month.
Although slightly difficult to read, each painting was signed by Wood at the lower left corner. The first appears to read “Grant Wood Sorrento 19...”, and the second reading “Grant W… Sorrento 1924” with an inscription at the lower right that says "Painted especially for Miss Harriet Cutler." The paintings, executed on board, were housed in what appeared to be their original frames. Outside of some minor cosmetic issues, the two pieces seemed to have been well cared for over the past almost 100 years. Both paintings arrived at The Center in relatively stable condition, and our conservators would address select issues to the paintings and frames to ensure they stay in the safest and most stable condition possible, just as Greg requested. “If I am to enjoy a painting for many years, I want it to be in as good of shape as we can get it.”
The Center's painting conservator working on the pieces noted, "The major conservation concern was the layer of dirt and grime that turned a seemingly sunny Italian day into a grey one." Once they were cleared of the grime, they certainly came to life, revealing the true tones of the scenes. "It is sometimes easier to treat a piece 100 years of age than a modern painting, as traditional materials have been around for a long time, lending to a better overall understanding," mentions our painting conservator. We know Greg will be able to enjoy these paintings now that The Center has preserved their longevity and condition for the years to come.
“Grant Wood” Artnet. <http://www.artnet.com/artists/grant-wood/biography>