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Audio: Grant Wood, Study for Dinner for Threshers
Grant Wood (1891-1942)
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Property from the Estate of Stanley Resor
Grant Wood (1891-1942)

Study for Dinner for Threshers

Details
Grant Wood (1891-1942)
Study for Dinner for Threshers
signed 'Grant Wood' (lower right)
charcoal, pencil and chalk on brown paper laid down on paper
18 x 72 in. (45.7 x 182.8 cm.)
Executed in 1934.
Provenance
The artist.
[With]Ferargil Galleries, New York.
Private collection, Connecticut, acquired from the above, 1934.
By descent to the present owner.
Literature
P. Rinard, A. Pyle, Catalogue of the First New York Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Grant Wood, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1935, pp. 18, 19, 36, no. 64, illustrated.
Walker Galleries, Paintings by Six Americans, exhibition checklist, New York, 1935, no. 12.
E.A. Maser, Grant Wood, exhibition checklist, Lawrence, Kansas, 1959, no. 35, illustrated.
Des Moines Art Center, Mid-America in the Thirties: The Regionalist Art of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, exhibition catalogue, Des Moines, Iowa, n.p., no. 57.
P. Rinard, Grant Wood: The Graphic Work, exhibition checklist, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1972, no. 34.
W. Corn, Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, exhibition catalogue, New Haven, Connecticut, 1983, pp. 106-07, fig. 131, illustrated.
B.M. Roberts, et al., Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, Rohnert Park, California, 1995, p. 15, fig. 3, illustrated.
J.C. Milosch, Grant Wood's Studio: Birthplace of American Gothic, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2005, pp. 104-06, fig. 94, illustrated.
L.R. DeLong, When Tillage Begins, Other Arts Follow: Grant Wood and Christian Petersen Murals, exhibition catalogue, Ames, Iowa, 2006, p. 252, fig. 5.9, illustrated.
Exhibited
New York, Ferargil Galleries, The First New York Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Grant Wood, April 1935, no. 64.
New York, Walker Galleries, Paintings by Six Americans, November 12-28, 1935, no. 12.
San Diego, California, Fine Arts Gallery, Summer 1936.
Detroit, Michigan, Detroit Institute of Arts, Eighteenth Annual Exhibition of American Art, April 2-May 3, 1937, no. 94.
Lawrence, Kansas, The University of Kansas Museum of Art, Grant Wood, April 12-May 30, 1959, no. 35.
Des Moines, Iowa, Des Moines Art Center, Mid-America in the Thirties: The Regionalist Art of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry and Grant Wood, December 10, 1965-January 16, 1966.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Cedar Rapids Art Center, Grant Wood: The Graphic Work, March 19-April 16, 1972, no. 34.
New York, The Whitney Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, June 16-September 4, 1983, no. 42.
Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Art Museum, and elsewhere, Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, December 10, 1995-February 25, 1996.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Grant Wood at 5 Turner Alley, September 9-December 4, 2005.
Washington D.C., The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Grant Wood's Studio: Birthplace of American Gothic, March 10-July 16, 2006.
Ames, Iowa, Brunnier Art Museum, Iowa State University, When Tillage Begins, Other Arts Follow: Grant Wood and Christian Petersen Murals, September 13-November 27, 2006.

Lot Essay

Study for Dinner for Threshers is a masterwork of Regionalism that manifests Grant Wood’s assimilation of various influences into his own unique and celebrated style. It is also a highly personal narrative in which he uses this style to recount an event in his youth on an Iowa farm. The artist wrote of the final painting, which relates closely to the present work and is in the collection of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, "Dinner for Threshers is from my own life. It includes my family, our neighbors, our tablecloth, our chairs, and our hens. It was painted…It is of and by me...” (as quoted in Artist in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood, New York, 1944, p. 192)

Study for Dinner for Threshers depicts Wood’s childhood dining room on threshing day, which the artist remembered as, “the big event of the year…the excitement of which I shall never forget.” (Grant Wood, A Life, pp. 169-70) Threshing day was not only integral to the economy of American agricultural society, it was also an event ingrained in the social fiber of the Midwest. “At harvest time, cooperative threshing increased farm efficiency and played an important social role, especially for single people, who enjoyed the opportunity to gather and get acquainted.“ While other Regionalists such as Thomas Hart Benton depicted the act of threshing, here Wood renders the hearty mid-day meal that the men enjoy after toiling in the fields. The women are busy preparing and serving food for the table full of burly farmers as three younger men wash up outside and wait for the second seating. Wood depicts the animated scene from memories of his Anamosa youth and Study for Dinner for Threshers is filled with authentic detail. Wood’s biographer, Darrell Garwood writes, “The regular dining chairs, twelve of them, are the ones his mother bought with the money she had saved from teaching. Those are her red-checkered tablecloths, two or three of them on such a long table. They’re using her Haviland china with the moss-rose pattern today; the ironstone dishes are on the shelves. On the floor is one of the rag rugs Mrs. Wood kept making and giving to Grant’s friends.” (Artist in Iowa, A Life of Grant Wood, p. 170) The lithograph that hangs on the dining room wall is Wild Horses, “a favorite of Wood’s from childhood” (Grant Wood, A Life, p. 173) that was a popular home decoration in Midwestern farms at the time.

Study for Dinner for Threshers demonstrates the astute draftsmanship and narrative that define Wood’s best works. He utilizes a shallow, stage-like pictorial space and gives the scene visual unity through the repetition of forms and patterns. The rectangular shapes of windows, doors, porch and hayloft give the composition structure. In the central dining room, the repetition of chair backs, overall straps and broad shoulders captures the viewer’s eye and creates a sense of rhythm that conveys the buzz of conversation and activity at the table. The diamond pattern of the wallpaper echoes the outline of the fabric straps on the men’s backs. The two auxiliary scenes – the barn yard and kitchen – are united not only through a sense of symmetry and balance, but also by visual echoes such as the bib of the overalls of the young man who stands combing his hair and that of the apron of the woman who stands by the stove; and the gingham of the work shirt of the man washing his face, which is similar to that of the dress of the woman leaning over the stove as are their body positions. Each of these visual motifs leads the viewer’s eye through the work and enhances the narrative of the picture. Study for Dinner for Threshers is emblematic of Wood’s distinct style and demonstrates his belief that “[w]ithout being either primitive or provincial, the contemporary American artist…could achieve an independent style by devising a personal ‘convention’ of composition and design applicable to ‘literary, story-telling, illustrational pictures.’” (J.M. Dennis, Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture, New York, 1975, p. 143)

The importance of drawings such as Study for Dinner for Threshers in Wood’s oeuvre cannot be overstated. Lea Rosson DeLong writes of the present work, “Sold into the Stanley Resor collection soon after its completion, this Dinner for Threshers drawing was as much a finished work as the painting itself…Drawing assumed a central importance in his output, and he frequently produced drawings that were at least as complex, if not more so, than the paintings for which they were supposedly ‘studies.’” (When Tillage Begins, Other Arts Follow: Grant Wood and Christian Petersen Murals, Ames, Iowa, 2006, p. 252) Study for Dinner for Threshers is nearly identical in size and content to the painting and there are only minor variances between the two. In addition to the present work, Wood also produced two highly-finished drawings depicting the left and right portions of the final composition, which are in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Wood used this working method throughout the 1930s and for the remainder of his career. In addition to the present work, there are several extant large-scale stand-alone works on paper including Study for Adolescence (1933) and Study for Parson Weems' Fable (1939, Private collection).

Study for Dinner for Threshers masterfully demonstrates the diverse influences that Wood melded with his superb draftsmanship to create his own, highly personal and lauded style. Although Wood’s chosen subject matter in mature works such as Study for Dinner for Threshers is deliberately provincial, his training and arts education were both sophisticated and worldly. Insight into his various sources of inspiration is central to a full understanding of the work. Wood made several impactful trips to Europe in the 1920s, during which he spent time in France, Italy and Germany studying the work of the Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, Old Masters and Renaissance artists as well as the German Neue Sachlichkeit movement, all of which influenced the development of his mature style and approach to his subject.

Brady M. Roberts, writes, “the significance of Wood’s three trips to Paris cannot be underestimated. His experimentation with Impressionism and Post-Impressionism and his exposure to modern European art played a significant role in the development of his mature style.” (“The European Roots of Regionalism” in Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, Rohnert Park, California, 1995, p. 2) While in Paris, Wood was exposed to the work of Georges Seurat and the crosshatching technique that he employs in Study for Dinner for Threshers and all of his best works on paper, relates to the method used by the French artist. In the present work this method allows Wood to seamlessly blend the brown paper into the composition, capture a high degree of detail and give the figures a sculptural form and weight. Roberts compares “the classically rendered figures arranged in a frieze-like procession” to Seurat’s masterwork, Un dimanche a la Grand Jatte.” (“The European Roots of Regionalism” in Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, Rohnert Park, California, 1995, p. 3) He notes that they both “include precisely contoured figures reduced to geometric forms in a calculated composition emphasizing horizontal and vertical lines, alluding to the format and figuration of Antique friezes. Both Seurat and Wood started with direct observation but then transcended the particular in an attempt to achieve universal stability. Their classicism began with reductive preparatory drawings.“ (“The European Roots of Regionalism” in Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, p. 6) Wood would have seen Un dimanche a La Grand Jatte either in the 1913 Armory Show, which traveled to Chicago when he was studying there or at the Art Institute of Chicago, which acquired the painting in 1926.

The influence of Wood’s 1928 trip to Munich in which he encountered the work of the Neue Sachlichkeit, the German realist group lead by Otto Dix, Max Beckmann and George Grosz, among others, is also evident in Study for Dinner for Threshers. “Upon returning from Munich, Wood drastically altered his method and style of painting, working in a much more methodical and premeditated fashion than he had in his earlier Impressionist phase.” (“The European Roots of Regionalism” in Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, p. 6) This is seen in the regimented, linear composition of Study for Dinner for Threshers as well as the carefully laid out narrative of the work. In addition to catalyzing a stylistic shift, Wood’s time in Munich also changed his view of the Midwest as a subject and lead him to see new possibilities in his native land. “He was impressed by the ‘primitives’ of Germany, medieval artists who painted New Testament stories in terms of their own environment. Upon his return to Iowa he found himself looking upon the landscapes, the people, the familiar objects in a new light. Here were people stern, sobered by work, sometimes narrow and fanatical, basically simple and kindly. Here were the same broad meadow and the same evenly-spaced cornfields. It was a reality he had seen before. But now it had taken on meaning.” (P. Rinard, A. Pylie, Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by Grant Wood, with an Evaluation of the Artist and his Work, Chicago, Illinois, 1935, p. 5)

In works such as Study for Dinner for Threshers, Wood sought to celebrate and elevate the culture of Midwestern agrarian society. Dr. Wanda M. Corn writes of Dinner for Threshers and Wood’s, Arbor Day (1932, Private collection), “these paintings fill out Wood’s anthropological picture of the farmer, showing him not only as a worker on the land but as a part of a larger community with its own institutions and festivities. As the artist celebrated the farmer’s communion with nature, he also revered the rural family’s participation in the annual rites, elevating them through his paintings into sacred rituals.” (Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, New Haven, Connecticut, 1983, p. 104) In order to achieve this in the present work, “Wood called the traditions of Christian painting to sanctify the farmer’s repast” (Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, p. 104) and the influence of Renaissance triptychs and particularly of the work of Flemish painter Hans Memling, whom Wood often credited as an influence, is clearly evident in the construction of Study for Dinner for Threshers. “He self-consciously based his design on early-Renaissance religious triptychs in which a sacred scene, usually depicting the Madonna and Child, appeared in the center panel, accompanied by saints or patrons in wings on either side…Wood ingeniously adopted this format, cutting, as it were, a farmhouse in half so we can witness the central event—the dinner—going on inside.” (Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, p. 104)

In Study for Dinner for Threshers as in Memling’s Donne Triptych (circa 1475, National Gallery, London), the central scene – in Memling’s triptych, the man who commissioned the work, Sir John Donne, his wife Elizabeth and child Anne seated around the Virgin with two angels and the saints Catherine and Barbara; and in Study for Dinner for Threshers, Grant’s childhood dining room filled with family and farmhands – is flanked by two vignettes, which are incorporated into the main composition, but also function as separate narratives. In the Donne Triptych, John the Baptist and John the Evangelist are depicted on the shutters. In Study for Dinner for Threshers there is the masculine domain of the farm yard at left, and, at right, the feminine realm of the domestic interior of the kitchen. In both works the auxiliary scenes are visually connected to the main narrative by a continuity of architectural space and the overall composition has symmetry and balance around a central element. In Memling’s work it is the red awning over the Virgin and in Wood’s, it is the far more modest hanging light fixture. As Memling incorporates patterning into his composition with the floor tiles, Wood juxtaposes a simple wood floor with patterned wall paper. Memling incorporates the symbols for Barbara and Catherine, a tower and a wheel respectively in the landscape visible through the window, in Study for Dinner for Threshers, Wood in a similarly clever fashion incorporates his own symbol, the windmill, peeking over the barn at far left. In the final painting, Dinner for Threshers, Wood also places his fictitious birth date, 1892, on the barn, under the pitch of the roof. Study for Dinner for Threshers is not the only work by Wood to demonstrate the influence of Northern Renaissance triptychs. The pictorial construction is even more pronounced in Study for Breaking the Prairie (1935-39, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York), which he began working on the following year.

Given Wood’s statement that the present work “is of and by me,” it is probable that it depicts the artist and his immediate family. While the religious iconography of the Donne Triptych is overt, that in Study for Dinner for Threshers is more subtle. The present work is both a memory of Wood’s youth, portraying “a ritual celebration of mythical self-sufficiency and of perennial plenty gained through cooperative labor," (Grant Wood; A Study in American Art and Culture, New York, 1975, p. 218) and an allusion to the Last Supper. Corn writes, “Although there are fourteen men at the table, there is no doubt that Wood presents the threshers’ dinner as his Midwestern version of the Last Supper.” (Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, p. 104) The present work pays homage to that of another artist who was influential to Wood’s development, Italian Renaissance painter Giotto di Bondone. The shallow pictorial space and positioning of figures is reminiscent of the Last Supper (circa 1303-08, Arena Chapel, Padua Italy). The farmhands’ overalls replace the uniformly draped clothing of the apostles in the Italian work; and the position of the woman, most likely Wood’s mother and muse, Hattie, standing at the table with the male figure, perhaps Wood himself, who leans on her is reminiscent of this Renaissance painting. Dr. Evans writes, “Although Wood never identified his father’s location within the painting, he insisted that the work portrayed ‘my family’ and claimed, moreover, that this scene was set in 1900—the final year of Maryville’s life. If the artist’s father is present at all in this scene, then (and it would defy logic if he were not), we may with some certainty identify him as the central figure. Not only does the man’s blond hair connect him to Maryville, but his position on the family’s piano stool—the least comfortable seat at the table—also suggests his role as an accommodating host…In its central and slightly elevated position, this figure mirrors Christ’s location in traditional Last Supper imagery and echoes, moreover, the prefigurement of death found in such images.” (Grant Wood: A Life, pp. 174-75)

The present work is a richly layered and complex composition, the importance of which is widely acknowledged. Roberts hails Dinner for Threshers as “one of [Wood’s] most ambitious expressions as a Regionalist painter.” (“The European Roots of Regionalism” in Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, p. 3) Corn writes that Dinner for Threshers, “rejoices not just in the fullness of agrarian life but in the establishment of community and social ritual on the frontier.” (Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, p. 104) With its various influences converging to create a psychologically compelling scene of traditional Midwestern agricultural life, Study for Dinner for Threshers is a masterwork that manifests Wood’s 1937 statement that, “Regionalism, as I have used the term, pertains to artistic methods; it is an elaboration of the general proposition that art, although potentially universal in significance, is always more or less local in inception.” (as quoted in “The European Roots of Regionalism” in Grant Wood: An American Master Revealed, Rohnert Park, California, 1995, p. 34)

Study for Dinner for Threshers was purchased by Helen Lansdowne Resor on May 14, 1934 and has descended in the family since that time. Helen was an exceptional woman and a leading advertising executive at a time when many women were barred access to the professional world. In 1908, she joined the staff of J. Walter Thompson advertising agency as the sole copywriter and achieved immediate success working on campaigns for Crisco, Cutex, Yuban Coffee and Lux Flakes among others. Among her many achievements, she was the first woman to present her ideas to the board of directors of Procter and Gamble. In 1911, she moved with her colleague and future husband, Stanley Resor, to the New York office of J. Walter Thompson. Stanley took control of the company in 1916 and the following year they were married, uniting two of the great minds in the advertising industry. The Resors grew J. Walter Thompson into the largest advertising agency in the world and in 1964, News Bulletin lauded Helen as “one of the main architects of J. Walter Thompson’s growth.” A large part of this growth was driven by Helen’s focus on female consumers and her tremendous dedication and impact in introducing a substantial number of women to her industry, “Women in advertising, and particularly in the Thompson offices around the world, owe Mrs. Resor a great deal—not only for the opportunities she opened up for women, but for the inspiring standards she set for us to follow.”

In addition to her considerable professional achievements, Helen Resor had three children and dedicated time to support Planned Parenthood, Radcliffe College, woman’s suffrage as well as serving as the chair of the Babies Ward of the New York Post-Graduate Hospital. She was also an art collector and anonymous backer of many artists. Her intellect, innate eye for great art and varied interests lead to the creation of a wonderfully diverse collection. Christie’s is honored to offer Grant Wood’s Study for Dinner for Threshers and Morris Graves’ Bird of the Inner Eye (lot 114) from the Estate of Stanley Resor.

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