As winter blows outside the windows, my thoughts turn to the painting in our collection that perfectly encapsulates the solitude of mid-western life in this, the bleakest of months. Grant Wood's January turns seventy years old this year. The artist completed the work, according to a verso inscription, on 28 January 1941, despite a date on the front placing it a year earlier. The bleak subject matter of the painting, a frozen snowy landscape of corn shocks, dotted in the foreground with rabbit tracks trailing off, parallels the difficult final years of the artist's life. At the time he painted the piece, Wood had just finished his seventh year at the University of Iowa. On sabbatical, recently divorced, and in failing health, Wood painted a desperate scene of the harsh truth of nature, exposed in almost geometrical precision on the canvas, row after row. According to his biography, within several months, exploratory surgery found inoperable cancer. The artist prepared for the end of his life, while finishing up the remaining work in his studio. As he told his doctor, "I've still got a lot of pictures I want to paint."
As with most of Wood's late career paintings, January sold immediately. The new owner, film producer King Vidor, remarked, "In Grant Wood’s 'January' I have the whole feeling of America right in my own dining room." While the filmmaker's quote is prescient, it is revealed to be from an article in regards to collecting American art as an investment. In contrast to this burgeoning market for his work, the artist had only started to even out his finances with sales of his art. The Cleveland Museum of Art also owns a print by Wood, produced in the final year of his life, entitled February, a study for which the artist never completed a painting. As it turns out, January is one of the final paintings of Grant Wood's truncated career. The artist died on 12 January 1942, on his 51st birthday.
January 1941. Grant Wood. Oil on canvas; 67 x 83 cm. Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund, Cleveland Museum of Art.