University Museums

Title: Fertility
Name: Lithograph
Date: 1939
Period: Regionalism
Medium: Lithograph on paper
Country/Culture: American
Dimensions: 8 7/8 x 11 7/8 in. (22.5 x 30.2 cm)
Signed: Signed in pencil lower right, Grant Wood
Edition: Edition of 250. Publsihed by Associated American Artists.
Classification: Prints and Printing Plates
Credit Line: Gift of Orville and Olga Skott Ruggeberg, In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University.
Object Number: UM2004.66
More Information
In view of Grant Wood's sympathy with liberal reforms, his approval of social criticism in painting, even regionalist painting, and his satirizing of conventional notions about past history and those who held them, it is difficult to explain the appearance of his stylized, idyllic farmscape and farm figures in the midst of a farm crisis in Iowa. The distance he maintained from the farmers' dilemma as subject matter makes a startling contrast to his publically announced admiration for the farms, for tier courage and independence. He clearly stated that the artist-painter or writer-should speak for the farmers as "the richest kind of material" Such discrepancies cannot help but arouse skepticism as to his basic motives in painting what he did, and one at first might suspect that aesthetic and commercial aspects had been hiss overriding concerns. Conceivable, as a visual artist Wood could have simply found himself attracted to the decorative qualities of farm land, apart from his political and social sympathies. Aiming for universality, he could have valued the farmed landscape, as he did the dress and shelter of the rural Midwest, for its ornamental possibilities: details crisp and clear-cut, an orderliness of plain craft and cultivation in reaction against his former appreciation for the old European custom of the picturesque. Alert to urban nostalgia for the bucolic, Wood, too, might have been exploiting the long-standing, ready-made market to guarantee his material success. However, neither of these purposes withstands close critical scrutiny. From "Grant Wood" by James Dennis, page 208.


Dominating this idealized farmstead is a barn appearing colossal next to the diminutive family home. Cornfields are symmetrically bountiful with the illusion of prosperity, however the lack of inhabitants, humans or domesticated animals, gives the viewer the illusion of tranquil isolation. The farmhouse depicted here is the farmhouse that a man and woman pose in front of in Grant Wood's most famous painting American Gothic. In this lithograph and Honorary Degree, the Gothic window appaears as the primary repeated form similar to Wood's utilization of the same shape in American Gothic.

"In the last few years of his life Wood produced a series of pictorial inventions of "farmer material" based on his extensive acquaintance with the rich farmland of Iowa. 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 market, and mortgages."
(Dennis, James. Grant Wood. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1986. p 201)
Published References: Cole 15