Grant Wood (1891-1942)
Property from the Descendants of the Sitter
Grant Wood (1891-1942)

The American Golfer

Grant Wood (1891-1942)
The American Golfer
signed and dated 'Grant Wood•1940' (lower left)
oil on masonite
36 ½ x 48 in. (92.7 x 121.9 cm.)
Mr. Charles Campbell, the sitter.
Mrs. Merrill Taylor, Kalamazoo, Michigan, daughter of the above.
By descent to the present owners.
D. Garwood, Artist in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood, New York, 1944, pp. 212, 221, 232 (as Portrait of Charles Campbell).
J.M. Dennis, Grant Wood: A Study in American Art and Culture, New York, 1975, p. 116, fig. 107, illustrated (as The American Golfer, Portrait of Charles Campbell).
Davenport Municipal Art Gallery, This is Grant Wood Country, Davenport, Iowa, 1977, p. 8 (as Portrait of Charles Campbell).
W.M. Corn, Grant Wood: The Regionalist Vision, exhibition catalogue, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1983, p. 149 (as The American Golfer, Portrait of Charles Campbell).
K. Jennings, Grant Wood, New York, 1994, p. 33 (as The American Golfer, Charles Campbell).
J.E. Seery, "Grant Wood's Political Gothic," Theory & Event, vol. 2, no. 1, 1998, p. 30.
J.E. Seery, America Goes to College: Political Theory for the Liberal Arts, Albany, New York, 2002, pp. 135, 139.
Kalamazoo, Michigan, Kalamazoo Institute of Arts, 1973-75, on loan.

Lot Essay

The present work, The American Golfer of 1940, is a classic example of Grant Wood’s signature Regionalist style depicting the picturesque landscape of his native Midwest. By the mid-1930s, Wood's Regionalist imagery was well-known throughout the country, and his schedule of exhibitions and lectures forced him to selectively consider and approach major paintings. As a result, much of his work after 1934 concentrated on drawings, illustrations and prints. Between 1937 and 1941, the artist made an agreement with the Associated American Artists, New York, to publish at least four lithographs a year, resulting in a total output of nineteen. The prints depicted scenes of rural life, the changing seasons and the countryside--themes Wood utilized to launch onto the national stage along with artists Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry.

The three principal figures of the Regionalism movement–Wood in Iowa, Benton in Missouri, and Curry in Kansas–became emblems of American heritage and hometown values. Although Wood’s home “was in the Midwest and he generally used his own territory to illustrate how Regionalism worked, he envisioned Regionalism as a national movement, with each region supporting its own artists…To Wood: ‘Each section has a personality of its own, in physiography, industry, psychology.’” (W.M. Corn, Grant Wood: Regionalist Vision, exhibition catalogue, New Haven, Connecticut, 1983, p. 43) Wood envisioned Regionalism as a means to celebrate the diversity of the American landscape and the distinction between the regions.

In The American Golfer, Wood returns to a theme that had preoccupied him throughout his artistic career: aging. Having first explored this theme in 1931 with Arnold Comes of Age (Sheldon Memorial Art Gallery, University of Nebraska - Lincoln), it was expanded upon in 1940 with Adolescence (Private Collection) and in the present work. While Arnold Comes of Age and Adolescence express the transience and ungainliness of youth, The American Golfer depicts a transition in later life where the central figure is no longer shy and unsure but rather confident and at ease with himself.

Charles Campbell, a successful banker from Kalamazoo, Michigan, first met Wood in 1937. Campbell’s son-in-law, Merrill Taylor, asked Wood to produce a portrait of his father-in-law, and, after spending a week at Campbell’s home, the artist agreed to the commission. In a June 26, 1937, letter to Taylor, Wood's former wife writes, "...Grant wants to make a fine portrait of Mr. Campbell. This desire on his part is prompted by real admiration for Mr. Campbell and a genuine liking for all of you. In other words, he feels you are extremely worthwhile citizens."

Darrell Garwood writes, “Campbell was shown looking out at a golf ball with an expression of mild pleasure, tempered by age. As a rule Grant thought an action picture…a very tiresome thing to look at, but he thought there was a place at the end of a golf swing, before the club dropped, when the subject was completely relaxed, and that was the pose he chose for Campbell. He had had it in mind as a major picture, to be called 'American Golfer,' but the Taylors and Campbells considered it a family matter and asked that no prints be made.” (Artist’s in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood, New York, 1944, p. 232) Behind Campbell is his perfectly manicured property with his colonial residence set atop the rolling Michigan landscape. The changing color of the trees, which bisect the composition, and a single oak branch to the left of the figure indicate the fall season, and the leaves, presented in transition, serve as a metaphor to express the natural progression of life.

Wood spent considerable time perfecting the composition. In a February 14, 1940, letter to the Taylors, Wood writes, "I have brought down the sky on the painting; reintroduced the oak leaves; and made some other changes that make the picture a more harmonious unit. It will be a much better painting to live with over a period of years than it was before. When I finally ship it to will know that it is the best work of which I am capable..." As one of Wood's last large-scale works before his untimely death in 1942, the subject of seasonal change, aging and the life cycle take on prophetic significance in The American Golfer.

This lot is accompanied by a portfolio of original correspondence between Grant Wood and the Campbell-Taylor family.

More from American Art

View All
View All