Grant Wood is best known for his work American Gothic. The painting shows a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter, figures modeled by the artist's dentist and sister, Nan (1900-1990). The dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (1867-1950) was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana and the couple are in the traditional roles of men and women, the man's pitchfork symbolizing hard labor.
Gothic is one of the most famous paintings in American art and one of the few images to reach the status of universally recognised cultural icon, comparable to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and Edvard Munch's The Scream.
It was first exhibited in 1930 at the Art Institute of Chicago, where it is still located. Art critics who had favorable opinions about the painting, such as Gertrude Stein and Christopher Morley, wrongly assumed the painting was meant to be a satire of repression and narrow-mindedness of rural small-town life since it was produced at a time when there was a trend toward increasingly critical depictions of rural America, along the lines of Sherwood Anderson's 1919 Winesburg, Ohio, Sinclair Lewis' 1920 Main Street, and Carl Van Vechten's The Tattooed Countess in literature.
Wood's inspiration came from Eldon, southern Iowa, where a cottage designed in the Gothic Revival style with an upper window in the shape of a medieval pointed arch, provided the background and also the painting's title. Wood decided to paint the house along with "the kind of people I fancied should live in that house."
The house had once been a brothel.