Lot 24
  • 24

GRANT WOOD | Portrait of Mrs. Donald MacMurray

600,000 - 800,000 USD
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  • Grant Wood
  • Portrait of Mrs. Donald MacMurray
  • signed GRANT/WOOD and dated 1933 (lower right)
  • oil on Masonite
  • 24 by 21 inches
  • (61 by 53.3 cm)


Donald MacMurray, Chicago, Illinois (the sitter's husband, commissioned from the artist)
Mildred Klein (the sitter, by descent)
Sherman Sexton, 1950 (her later husband)
William and Margo Sexton (by descent)
By descent in the family
(possibly) [With]R.H. Love Galleries, Inc., Chicago, Illinois
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa 1990


Chicago, Illinois, The Lakeside Press Galleries; New York, Ferargil Galleries, Catalogue of a Loan Exhibition of Drawings and Paintings by Grant Wood, February-April 1935, no. 47, p. 28


Darrell Garwood, Artist in Iowa: A Life of Grant Wood, New York, 1944, pp. 211-12, 253
Nan Wood Graham, Photographs of Grant Wood Paintings Compiled by Nan Wood Graham, 1968, unpublished scrapbooks, vol. 15, p. 64, illustrated
Joseph S. Czestochowski, Marvin D. Cone and Grant Wood: An American Tradition, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1990, p. 197
Nan Wood Graham, My Brother, Grant Wood, Maryville, Missouri, 1993, p. 94


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes, Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work is in beautiful condition. It is painted on Masonite which is supported by a wooden framework on the reverse. The board is flat and the paint layer is stable. The painting does not appear to have been cleaned, and the uneven sheen to the surface is original to the artist. Wood's unique technique remains clearly well preserved throughout. In some areas, he applied a glaze which he then carved into with a knife. This technique is particularly visible in the faces and hands, and can also be seen in the coat and sleeves. There is no damage or weakness to the paint layer, and it is in excellent state.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

We are grateful to Joseph S. Czestochowski for preparing the following essay:

Throughout his life, Grant Wood was keenly interested in portraiture, from his own self-portraits painted between 1917 and the late 1930s, to those of close friends, periodic commissions and those simply of artistic interest to him. Portrait of Mrs. Donald MacMurray is a wonderful example of Wood’s noted efforts in this genre, which included, among others: Portrait of John B. Turner, 1928-30 (Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, Iowa), his mother in Woman with Plants, 1929 (Cedar Rapids Museum of Art), Portrait of Francis Fiske Marshall, 1929 (Cedar Rapids Museum of Art), Portrait of Mary Van Vechten and Susan Angevine Schaffer, 1930; Portrait of Nan, 1931 (Private collection), The American Golfer, 1940 (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas), and of course, his iconic portraits in American Gothic (Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois) of his sister Nan Wood Graham and their dentist Byron McKeeby.

The artist was likely familiar with Mrs. MacMurray through his relationship to Sara Sherman Maxon, of Michigan City, Indiana, who was the former head of the School of Fine Arts there, and very active in regional theater and music circles. Wood and Sara Maxon were married from 1935 to 1939. Mrs. MacMurray was an avid art collector, active in Chicago symphony and cultural circles. Despite her wealth, Wood portrayed her in a humble dress with no jewelry in a rural setting, but he clearly delighted in the contrast of patterns in her clothing. Clearly evidenced in this patterning is Wood's technique of applying glazes in select areas before carving into them with a knife. Perhaps as a further acknowledgement of the hard times during the Great Depression she holds a very commonplace fern flower with its myriad meanings of hope, good luck, happiness, humility, sincerity, and confidence, among others, and perhaps indicating the sitter's keen interest in gardening. In any case, it was an important reflection of the Victorian culture, the concurrent mania for ferns and the social history of a time that was passing in the early twentieth century.

This painting will be included in Joseph S. Czestochowski's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work by InternationalArts® at www.catrais.org. We wish to thank him for his assistance cataloguing this lot.