|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|
|Home, Sweet Home, Charles Sheeler, 1931|
|Thanksgiving, Doris Lee, c1935|
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.