4 The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere
midnight ride 1
© Molly Eyres, Flickr 2009.

midnight ride 2
© Diana Rosenthal 2014.

Grant Wood (American, Anamosa, Iowa 1892–1942 Iowa City, Iowa)
Date: 1931
Medium: Oil on Masonite
Dimensions: H. 30, W. 40 in. (76.2 x 101.6 cm)
Classification: Paintings
Credit Line: Arthur Hoppock Hearn Fund, 1950
Accession Number: 50.117
Rights and Reproduction: © Estate of Grant Wood/Licensed VAGA, New York, NY
Not on view

Grant Wood’s whimsical painting The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is a take on an historical event that inspired Wood when he was a child. Growing up, Wood was enamored with Longfellow’s 1860 poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” about Revere’s storied trip through Middlesex County in 1775 to alert fellow patriots of the arrival of the British and felt inspired by both the poem and the event itself (Corn, 1983).

In interviews, Wood remarked that he was motivated to paint this event because he thought of it as “a valuable and colorful part of our national heritage [that is] being lost as a result of the work of analytical historians and debunking biographers” (Corn, 1983). Wood himself found the story charming and set out to mirror that charm in his own interpretation.

The oil painting on masonite depicts several moments in time at once: a specific event, a turning point in the American Revolution, and the hour of midnight. Though it is based on a real event, Wood’s interpretation of Paul Revere’s historic ride is playful. The depiction of the horse resembles a child’s rocking horse more than a real-life animal. The trees and hills painted in the background are rounded unnaturally, resembling a soft, quilted pillow. Wood’s use of shadowing to create the appearance of light at such a late hour is both unreal and anachronistic; a late 18th-century neighborhood would not have electrical lights illuminating the homes, as it seems in the painting.

Wood’s choice of subject matter is also a commentary on the time at which the painting was created; in the 1930s, American culture glorified “heroes” from the colonial and revolutionary periods (Corn, 1983). Corn argues that, in this sense, Wood’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere is only one part of a larger “neo-colonial preservation movement” (1983: 86).

In carving out his own particular American style, Grant Wood truly symbolizes the Regionalist movement of American art in the 1920s and 1930s. Though he spent some time in Europe, his style did not emulate European contemporary art trends. One similarity between Wood’s work in Midnight Ride and some of the contemporary European paintings of biblical or mythological stories was the disregard for inserting inaccuracies into well-known events or stories (MMA, 1987: 129). In Wood’s case, the dreamlike nature of Midnight Ride demonstrates a disregard for historical representation; he creates another reality during which his version of this actual event takes place.

A note about provenance
This painting has been exhibited as far as the Australian National Gallery (1986) and as close as the Whitney Museum in New York (1999). Though it was temporarily on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during the summer of 2014, it is currently not on view.

(1991). Grant Wood: 1891–1942. Davenport, Iowa: Davenport Museum of Art.
This work provides a lot of background information about Grant Wood throughout his life and career as an artist. It is interesting to see the perspective from his native state; it’s possible this work is a bit biased toward his work.

Berman, G. (1983). Grant Wood: The regionalist vision by Wanda M. Corn. Art Journal, 43(4), 397–399.

Cole, S. J. (1984). Grant Wood: The lithographs. New York: Associated American Artists.

Corn, W. M. (1983). Grant Wood: The regionalist vision. New Haven: Yale University Press.
This book was incredibly useful for researching Midnight Ride. Corn delves deeply into Wood’s inspiration for the painting and also situates his desire to portray this event within the larger context of a pre-colonial preservation movement. Just as Grant Wood went on to represent a quintessential type of American artist, this painting depicts a quintessential American revolutionary hero.

Geldzahler, H. (1965). American painting in the twentieth century (pp. 90–101). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Katz, J. (2014, May). Meet Grant Wood’s sister, the woman made famous by “American Gothic.” Smithsonian Magazine.

Lieberman, W. S. (1986). Painting: 1905–1945. 20th century art: Selections from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 48–49.

Milosch, J. C. (n.d.). Grant Wood’s studio: Birthplace of American Gothic (pp. 6–7, 104–105). Munich: Prestel.

Paul, S. (1999). 20th-Century Art: A resource for educators (p. 71). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Rinard, P., & Pyle, A. (1935). Grant Wood: Catalogue of loan exhibition. Chicago: The Lakeside Press Galleries.

Roque, O. R. (1987). The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The United States of America. Grant Wood, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (pp. 128–129). New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This exhaustive work about American art in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection includes a detailed write up of Grant Wood’s Midnight Ride. It focuses on his ability to develop a truly “American” style all his own, despite his travels to Europe. Though he took some inspiration from his contemporaries, Midnight Ride and American Gothic are recognizably Wood’s work.

Wood, Grant. (2014). In Grove Art Online. Retrieved from ttp://www.oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/art/T092155

WOOD, Grant. (2014). In Benezit Dictionary of Artists. Oxford Art Online. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/benezit/B00198743

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