Born and raised in Iowa, Grant Wood became one of America's best-known Regionalists, along with Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry. He trained in various crafts — woodworking, metalworking, and jewelry making — before attending painting and drawing classes at the Art Institute of Chicago (1913–16). During the 1920s Wood traveled to Europe four times, visiting Paris, Italy, and Germany. The most important lessons he brought back were from Munich, where he was impressed by the contemporary art movement known as the Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), which rejected abstraction in favor of an orderly, realistic art. He also admired the primitive Flemish and German painters, particularly the way in which they depicted mythological or biblical stories in contemporary costumes and settings, making them more relevant to the viewer than strict history paintings. Back in Iowa, Wood applied these ideas to his depictions of ordinary life. His work, like that of the other Regionalist painters, rejected the abstract modernist currents of European art in an effort to forge a realistic style that could depict typically American subjects.
Wood first came to public attention in 1930, when his painting "American Gothic" won a medal at the Art Institute of Chicago. A year later he painted "The Ride of Paul Revere," which makes no attempt at historical accuracy — for example, eighteenth-century houses surely would not have been so brightly lit. The picture has a dreamlike sense of unreality. The bird's-eye view makes the setting look like a New England town in miniature. Note the geometric shapes of the buildings and the landscape (even the treetops are perfectly round); the precisely delineated, virtually unmodulated light emanating from the buildings and raking across the foreground; the distinct, regularized shadows; and the way in which the forms in the darker background are almost as clear and visible as those in the brightly lit foreground. With his clean line and his even, unerring hand, Wood has thrown the scene into high relief, heightening reality so as to make it almost otherworldly, a quality that differentiates him from his fellow Regionalists. His precision evokes the work of eighteenth-century American limners. Unlike his modernist contemporaries, Wood remained committed to depicting regional life in America and, he hoped, the creation of a national style.