One of the best surprises at the Cincinnati Museum of Art was this painting by American artist, Grant Wood. You are probably aware of his most famous (and most parodied) work, American Gothic, but Daughters of Revolution is probably the work of his that has the most interesting backstory. What looks like at first glance a simple statement of the patriotism of three women is actually a statement about hypocrisy.
Wood painted Daughters of Revolution in reaction to an conflict with the Daughters of the American Revolution. In the late 1920s Wood had been commissioned to make a stained glass window for the Veterans Memorial Building in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Because he was not happy with the quality of glass available to him in the United States, he obtained the glass from Germany. When the local branch of the DAR heard about the German glass, their protests kept the work from being dedicated until many years after Wood’s death.
Thankfully, Wood was quick to show the country what he thought of this interference. The painting shows three daughters, one who looks suspiciously like George Washington and another like Benjamin Franklin, posing in front of the famous patriotic painting, Washington Crossing the Delaware. To Wood it was significant that the painting was made by German American artist Emmanuel Leutze, who painted it in Germany using the Rhine as a stand in for the Delaware. One daughter is wearing pearl earrings (from the Orient), another is holding a teacup (made in England using a Chinese design), and the other is wearing a collar made of fine lace (Belgian, perhaps?).
His point made, Wood continued his assault by making his subjects look like anti-revolutionaries. What could be more common and sedate than three little old ladies sitting around in their nice clothes drinking tea and talking about their glorious ancestors?
I’ve noticed on the internet a trend toward referring to older people as “cute” or “adorable.” I think a close examination of this painting shows the folly in that practice.
A side note:
Daughters of Revolution originally belonged to actor Edward G. Robinson, who according to one source, bought it directly from Wood. The Cincinnati Art Museum obtained the painting from Robinson’s estate in the 1970s.