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    Sale 2058

    Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

    4 December 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 95

    Grant Wood (1891-1942)

    Study for "February"

    Price Realised  

    Grant Wood (1891-1942)
    Study for "February"
    signed and dated 'Grant Wood 1940' (lower right)--signed and dated again and inscribed 'Charcoal Drawing----"February."'(along the lower margin)
    charcoal on paperboard
    19¼ x 24¾ in. (48.9 x 62.9 cm.)


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    The present work, Study for "February" of 1940, is a classic example of Grant Wood's signature Regionalist style depicting the picturesque rolling hills of his native Midwest blanketed in snow with three somber horses. The dark figures of the horses contrast with the soft, white snow, which is perfectly captured in the charcoal medium. The barbed wire fence cuts across the composition, representing the efforts of American farmers to tame and cultivate the rugged land. Wood's stylized visual aesthetic is often combined with a uniquely poetic vision of the American landscape. In Study for "February," the fence posts and endless expanse of land characteristic of the Midwest is represented during the harshest winter month, evoking a sense of the formidable beauty of the land and the resilience of its inhabitants.

    Already an established artist by the 1930s, much of Wood's work after 1934 is comprised of drawings, illustrations, and prints. "In December 1934, Time magazine hailed Wood as a major figure in a new school of American realist painting.'" (W.M. Corn, Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, New Haven, Connecticut, 1983, p. 35) In 1937 the artist made an agreement with the Associated American Artists, New York, to publish at least four lithographs yearly. The present work is a study for the lithograph February (1941, 9 x 11¾ in., presumably from an edition of 250), which is one of nineteen lithographs that Wood made in collaboration with the Associated American Artists between 1937 and 1941, depicting scenes of rural life and the countryside. In February--which was part of a series of lithographs illustrating the changing seasons, including December Afternoon, January, and March, among others--the American landscape is mythologized as an idyllic, agrarian paradise, free from the struggles of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The harsh winter weather is registered on the stiff horses in a vast tract of snow covered pasture, reinforcing notions of seasonal change, regeneration, and hardship, though "even this brief intrusion of winter's barren fury could hardly dispel the enfolding warmth sustained by Wood's prevailing conception of a snug Iowa farm life." (J.M. Dennis, Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture, New York, 1975, p. 202)

    Regionalism emerged out of the confusion and suffering caused by the Great Depression of the 1930s, stirred by the collective American yearning for a bygone era of pioneering western exploration, commitment to working the land, and simple country life. These works were characterized by comforting and reassuring rural scenes depicting the beauty and simplicity of the American landscape. The Regionalist movement was particularly influential from 1930 to 1935, when nostalgia for the American heartland and notions of interiority and introspection were turning Americans away from urban development. Decades of destructive farming techniques across the Great Plains--including over-working the land, deep plowing of the top soil, and failing to rotate crops--resulted in massive erosion, which combined with extreme drought conditions, caused the severe dust storms of 1930-36. Amid the widespread unrest in farming communities across the Great Plains, "Wood transformed this region into a world of well-being, a metamorphosis of nature that gave no hint of the hardships of tilling the land, no sense of the arbitrary catastrophes of nature or the inconstancy of human institutions. This rural paradise is occupied by innocent farm folk, anonymous providers immunized from the harsh, impersonal realities of bad weather, pests, disease, fluctuating markets, and mortgages." (Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture, p. 201)

    The three principal figures of the Regionalist movement--Grant Wood in Iowa, Thomas Hart Benton in Missouri, and John Steuart Curry in Kansas--became emblems of American heritage and hometown values. Wood envisioned Regionalism as a national movement that would celebrate the diversity of the American landscape: "Wood's Regionalism was less a revolt against urban centers and industrialization than it was a revolt against homogenization and the blurring of regional differences that these forces were bringing in their wake." (Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, p. 43) Wood celebrated his own Iowa heritage and the fine distinctions between regions, painting "one work after another about farm life, small-town folk, and the local countryside, drawing upon childhood memories and a wide range of Americana." (Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, p. 35) Study for "February" is an iconic and enduring example of Wood's distinctive style of Regionalism, incorporating agrarian subject matter and devotion to an idealized American landscape in a beautifully executed charcoal drawing. As one of his last important works before his untimely death in 1942, the subject of seasonal change and the life cycle of the agrarian terrain take on prophetic significance in Study for "February."


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    Provenance

    Associated American Artists, New York.
    James Maroney, Inc., New York.
    Andrew Crispo Gallery, Inc., New York.
    Sotheby's, New York, 3 December 1987, lot 291A.
    Acquired by the late owner from the above.


    Pre-Lot Text

    THE COLLECTION OF ALICE LAWRENCE


    Literature

    Frances Wolfson Art Gallery, The Spirit of Paper: Twentieth Century Americans, exhibition catalogue, Miami, Florida, 1982, n.p., no. 51, illustrated.
    Smith Kramer Art Connections, American Works on Paper: 100 Years of American Art History, exhibition catalogue, Kansas City, Missouri, 1983, p. 97, no. 91, illustrated.


    Exhibited

    Roslyn Harbor, New York, Nassau County Museum of Art, Animals in American Art: 1880s-1980s, October 4, 1981-January 17, 1982.
    New York, Andrew Crispo Gallery, American Works on Paper, February-March 1982, no. 70.
    Miami, Florida, Miami-Dade Community College, Frances Wolfson Art Gallery, The Spirit of Paper: Twentieth Century Americans, June-July 1982, no. 51.
    Davenport, Iowa, Davenport Art Gallery, and elsewhere, American Works on Paper: 100 Years of American Art History, December 11, 1983-December 29, 1985, no. 91.