Grant Wood, “Arnold Comes of Age (Portrait of Arnold Pyle)”, 1930, Oil on Composition Board, 27 x 23 Inches, Sheldon Museum of Art, Lincoln, Nebraska
Grant Wood’s 1930 oil-on-board “Arnold Comes of Age” was painted the same year as “American Gothic”. The painting is a portrait of Arnold Pyle, who was a student of Grant Wood’s when he was teaching middle school in Cedar Rapids; and then after graduation, Pyle became Wood’s studio assistant. It presents a subtle commentary on homoerotic desire and memory, as Arnold Pyle, caught in a rigid Renaissance-portrait pose, is set against a Midwestern riverside background.
When Wood’s assistant, Arnold Pyle, turned twenty-one, the artist decided to commemorate the event with a portrait. The attributes–the river of life, the cornsheaths, the butterfly at Arnold’s elbow–are obvious in the painting and Arnold’s expression, facing down adulthood, seems to reflect what Wood himself must have felt in his earlier years. Wood’s clear affection for his subject and empathy for Arnold’s difficult age endow the painting with unexpected life and appeal; like the other portraits, “Arnold Comes of Age” provides an idea of what did engage Grant Wood’s sincerest emotion.