America After the Fall: painting in the 1930s, at the Royal Academy of Arts

If I were to describe a picture and told you it featured two grumpy faces, the pin-sharp tines of a pitchfork, the steeply pitched roof of a clapboard church with a pointy window you’d probably guess that it was American Gothic by Grant Wood (The Art Institute of Chicago); it’s possibly the most iconic image to represent America in the 1930s and I was lucky enough to see this amazing painting for real at the Royal Academy of Arts‘ new show, America After the Fall.

The drawn faces of the farmer and his wife (or possibly his daughter) conjure the tough days of dust-bowl America in the 1930s, a time of economic disaster and meltdown, especially for the small farmers who were forced to leave their homesteads in the mid-west.

This show provides a snapshot of the turbulent ‘thirties which endured two recessions and, through art, charts a disillusionment with the ‘American dream’ and the end of an ‘age of innocence’. There are some really great pictures – many of which have not been seen in the UK before.  I’m familiar with works by artists such as Hopper, Guston and Pollock but it’s a joy to be introduced to other painters of that time; for example, I loved the  vivacity and colour of a domestic scene entitled Thanksgiving by Doris Lee full of delicious detail of the frenzy of kitchen activity in preparation of the feast.

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I was very struck by Daughters of the Revolution by Grant Wood – three pretty grim looking ladies upholding the traditions of the Pilgrim fathers.  Interesting and rather distasteful that these immigrant descendants feel entitled to claim a kind of supremacy over all subsequent immigrants to America.

img_5975Capturing the vitality of growing cities and rapid urbanisation I loved the painting by Stuart Davis entitled New York -Paris which was wonderfully stylised and also In Fourteenth Street by Reginald Marsh which oozes the energy and frenzy of New York.

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It’s a thoughtfully and well presented show which captures a fascinating and transitional moment in American history.

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