America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930’s

Ever wondered if there ever was a time before politics rules the lives of everyone and social media wasn’t even around?

Welcome to America in the 1930’s, shown through the exhibition of selected artworks at the Burlington House (just a five-minute walk from Picadilly Circus). The exhibition is split across three large rooms on the upper floor of the gallery, with the artworks displayed thematically through the social and artistic movements and ideas at the time. The most famous artwork from the period, American Gothic (1930) by Grant Wood, is emblazoned across every souvenir from the exhibition and the artwork itself does not disappoint, with the wife in the second plan of the painting looking disapprovingly across, and the ominous rake in the front. Perhaps most interestingly, it is the first time the painting has left North America, so it is well worth the effort to see it for the first time outside of the United States!

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‘American Gothic’, Grant Wood, 1930

Somewhat thematically, the collection of art in the gallery is widely inspired by movements in art going on in Europe at the time. Many of the American artists featured showed the social environment of America at the time inspired by the European movements in their travels, with importance placed on abandoned, feminine rural farmland raked through by the plough, or the sailors coming home after a long time away. Motifs of ennui for the past and the desire for a reformed, yet united America echo through the paintings, showing the turbulent times during the 30’s not unlike the ones we have now.

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Erosion no. 2 (1936), Alexander Hogue

As new technologies, advances in advertisement and activities became more popular, so too did art reflect these changes. The lonely nature of Edward Hopper’s paintings is displayed through the New York Movie (1939), which focuses on the lonely figure of the woman on the right, highlighting her literally through the cinematic play with light and the shadow of the movie theatre. Other influences, like those rises in advertisements, brought products to the limelight, emphasising their role in the changing face of urban America.

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New York Movie (1939) Edward Hopper

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Wrigley’s (1937), Charles Green Shaw

I was down in London by chance for a different event (new post on the way!), but I have always appreciated that the painting exhibitions at the Burlington House may be slightly unconventional, and in keeping with the times as well. Apart from seeing the similarity between the world we live in today and the slowly developing urban life in the modern world, the exhibition does pose some questions for reflection: what does it mean to be a part of the world today? How can we use the knowledge and history of the past to make more informed decisions in our lives and on a wider scale? Those were just some I came up with while I was looking around the gallery.

I hope you enjoyed my review! The exhibition is around until the 4th of June at Burlington House as part of the work by the Royal Academy of Arts, so if you are in London it is well worth the visit.

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