Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables

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Arnold Comes of Age (Portrait of Arnold Pyle), 1930

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Barbara Haskell: Arnold Comes of Age is a portrait of Arnold Pyle, who was a student of Grant Wood's when he was teaching middle school in Cedar Rapids, and then after graduation, Pyle became Wood's studio assistant.

Wood believed that paintings needed to tell stories. He felt that every painting had a beginning, a middle, and an end. In order to expand the idea of a sitter's personality and life, he thought he would include symbolic objects. So in every portrait he includes images that reflect something about the sitter's personality.

On the sleeve of Arnold's shirt is a butterfly, which represents symbolically the metamorphosis of life. There's a river of life dividing frolicking nude teens in the foreground and a harvested cornfield in the background to represent maturity. The other aspect of the picture, however, is a melancholy sense of sadness about it. I think it reflects Wood's own ambivalence about growing up.

Portrait of young man.

Barbara Haskell: Arnold Comes of Age is a portrait of Arnold Pyle, who was a student of Grant Wood's when he was teaching middle school in Cedar Rapids, and then after graduation, Pyle became Wood's studio assistant.

Wood believed that paintings needed to tell stories. He felt that every painting had a beginning, a middle, and an end. In order to expand the idea of a sitter's personality and life, he thought he would include symbolic objects. So in every portrait he includes images that reflect something about the sitter's personality.

On the sleeve of Arnold's shirt is a butterfly, which represents symbolically the metamorphosis of life. There's a river of life dividing frolicking nude teens in the foreground and a harvested cornfield in the background to represent maturity. The other aspect of the picture, however, is a melancholy sense of sadness about it. I think it reflects Wood's own ambivalence about growing up.


Grant Wood, Arnold Comes of Age (Portrait of Arnold Pyle), 1930. Oil on composition board, 26 3/4 x 23 in. (67.9 x 58.4 cm). Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska; Nebraska Art Association Collection 1931.N–38. © Figge Art Museum, successors to the Estate of Nan Wood Graham/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Photograph © Sheldon Museum of Art