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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Grant Wood is one of the most famous Regionalist painters of the 1930s. The Portrait of Nan by Grant Wood was created in 1933 in the Regionalism style. The portrait is made with oil on canvas.

The story behind the composition

The subject of the painting is Grant Wood’s younger sister, Nan. She was the youngest of Wood's three siblings and the only one with whom he shared an unusually deep bond. Grant Wood painted the Portrait of Nan to apologise for the harsh words critics and viewers had levelled at his sister thanks to previous pieces. Grant assumed that critics’ comments had hurt Nan after she modelled in for American Gothic. He also made the painting to reconcile his standing in Iowa among those who thought the American Gothic had ridiculed Midwesterners. Therefore, he composed the painting one year after American Gothic.

Description of the painting

The painting depicts Nan seated in a painted Hitchock seat. Behind her is a large green curtain. The curtain is held back using an antique drapery knob. The female figure (Nan) has a small yellow chick on the palm of her right arm and a ripe pulp in her other hand. Her appearance differs dramatically from how she appeared in American Gothic. Nan is dressed in a contemporary casual polka-dotted blouse.

Her hair is fashioned in a marcelled style. Her yellow hair colour matches the chick’s colour. On the other hand, the red colour of the palm resembles the wall behind the curtain. The female figure has an arresting and direct gaze with an almost half-smile on her face, similar to Mona Lisa’s. For this reason, many critics have referred to her as the latter-day Mona Lisa. The early American portraiture and folk painting are significantly referenced throughout this composition. Some of the references are the oval format, framing curtain, and Hitchcock chair.

Similar works

Besides the Portrait of Nan, Grant Wood featured her as a model in American Gothic. This is his most famous piece and the reason for his rise to fame. He also made several portraits of himself featuring similar styles and components as the Portrait of Nan.

Where is the painting now?

While composing it, Grant Wood intended to gift the Portrait of Nan to his sister. However, he later decided to keep it for himself. However, after his death, he left his entire estate to his sister, Nan. Nan had one of Grant’s associates alter the painting by adding lipstick, thinning her nose, and smoothing out her skin, neck, and upper arms. In other words, she gave herself a facelift. However, when Nan died in 1990, the painting changed ownership severely. It is currently in Lincoln under private ownership.