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“Sentimental Ballad” by Grant Wood

"Sentimental Ballad" by Grant Wood

“Sentimental Ballad” by Grant Wood

“Sentimental Ballad” by Grant Wood, depicts a group of singing men in a bar and represents a scene from a firm created in 1940 called  “The Long Voyage Home,” directed by John Ford.

The painting was commissioned by the film producer for the marketing of a film.  Nine popular artists were commissioned, and the artists were invited to visit the set of the film for several weeks to paint a motif from the upcoming film.

Wood’s painting illustrates a scene towards the end of the film, and features, from left to right, the actors John Qualen, John Wayne, Barry Fitzgerald, Thomas Mitchell, Joe Sawyer, David Hughes, and Jack Pennick. 

To create this highly detailed work, Wood painted from photographs and film stills. While he changed the composition slightly from the actual scene, his low vantage point reproduces the movie audience’s view.

The table edge is drawn at eye level, and the actors tower over the scene. The seven tipsy sailors are shown teary-eyed while singing a familiar song in a pub.

Wood acknowledged this painting as his:

“most ambitious painting he ever attempted.”

The Long Voyage Home

“The Long Voyage Home” is a 1940 American drama film directed by John Ford and stars John Wayne. The film tells the story of the crew from a British tramp steamer and their long voyage home.

The film was adapted from four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill. The original plays by Eugene O’Neill were written around the time of World War I and were among his earliest plays.

Ford set the story for the motion picture during the early days of World War II. The crew is depicted as a motley, fun-loving, hard-drinking lot exposed to miss-adventures.

The film failed to appeal to the general public but was well received by the critics.

"Sentimental Ballad" by Grant Wood

The actors Barry Fitzgerald, John Wayne, and John Qualen in “The Long Voyage Home”

Grant Wood

Grant Wood (1891 – 1942) was an American painter best known for his paintings depicting the rural American Midwest. From 1922 to 1928, Wood made four trips to Europe, where he studied art.

He studied Impressionism and post-Impressionism; however, it was the work of Jan van Eyck that influenced him to take on the clarity of this technique.

From 1922 to 1935, Wood lived in Cedar Rapids, where he helped found the Stone City Art Colony to help artists get through the Great Depression.

He became a great proponent of regionalism in the arts. Wood taught painting at the University of Iowa’s School of Art from 1934 to 1941. The day before his 51st birthday, Wood died of pancreatic cancer.

Sentimental Ballad

  • Title:                Sentimental Ballad
  • Artist:              Grant Wood
  • Year:               1940
  • Medium:         Oil on masonite
  • Dimensions    61 cm × 127 cm (24 in × 50 in)
  • Museum:       New Britain Museum of American Art

Grant Wood

Grant Wood

Sentimental Ballad

1940 John Ford film “The Long Voyage Home”


“I had to go to France to appreciate Iowa.”
– Grant Wood


Photo Credit: Grant Wood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons; United Artists / Public domain

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