This unmissable show is a duration vessel of 1930 s America, from the Dust Bowl to Jean Harlow at the movies

A gigantic jam-pack of Wrigleys gum wavers like a Zeppelin before the Manhattan skyline. The sky is sunny cobalt, the East river lies tranquil below. Here is the perfect gum( or so the slogan boasts) in an ideal eyesight where everything is reduced to pristine rectangles, from the rising skyscrapers to the gum to the abstract thinkings. Pop fused with minimalism three decades in advance: what a floundering start to this show.

Charles G Shaw, otherwise known as one of the Park Avenue cubists, is no longer an refer on everyones lips. Surely the majority of members of America After the Twilight: Depict in the 1930 s comes as a show , not least because so little acts have tripped outside the US before. This is our first chance to see Grant Woods nightmarishly ebullient gondola clang, in which a scarlet truck laughters over the hill towards an impending pile-up, or his great American Gothic , the long-faced duo putting sentinel before their famed wooden home.

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Death on the Ridge Road, 1935 by Grant Wood. Image: Collection of Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts

And who has come across Alexandre Hogues Mother Earth Laid Bare , in which the raped landscape lies dead in the junk, all her dark-green garments rend away; or O Louis Guglielmis presentiment of Brooklyn Bridge as a shattered rubble? A lady sits startled on one of its mangled struts, an unexploded bombard in her back. It is 1938: Roosevelt is prophesying war.

This show passes from the Great Depression to the onset of the second world war. Prolonged shortage and relentless gale scourged the prairies, leaving them barren. Poverty-stricken farmers absconded the Dust Bowl more than a million people displaced in Oklahoma alone. Municipalities expanded to take in state migrants and refugees from socialist, totalitarian and Nazi Europe. It was a dreadful decade for America, and hitherto plainly enormous for its painting.

America after the Fall expo video

In the truest appreciation, these works are clues of the times. They prop an entire American decade intact with their images of plants, docks, gas pumps and turbines, of brand-new skyscrapers heroically silhouetted against midwestern skies, and metropolis on mounds radiant with prominence. Sailors take shore leave with Lucky Strikes and prurient squints; stenographers crowd around the new beauty parlour; black roustabouts lug coal on the waterfront under the lily-white foreman pitiless eye.

In Philip Evergoods Dance Marathon , the living dead finalists are only just bracing one another up as a skeleton hangs the prize money from its bony digits. The New Yorkers in Reginald Marshs In Fourteenth Street pour out of the metro looking for love, and quite possibly Antoines permanent waves at $1.75. In Marshs Twenty Cent Movie , girlfriends in flimsies wait for their times beneath posters for Dangerous Arcs A drama of human passions STRIPPED BARE. Billboards teem in the sulphurous light.

This is committed realism by comparison with Edward Hoppers strange New York Movie : the usherette alone in her half-lit perimeter by the departure while the crowds watch some murky black-and-white cinema( Frank Capras Lost Horizon , in agreement with the reveals vigilant curators ). Shadows move across the screen and through her soul, as it seems, this lone figure lost in the city.

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William H Johnsons Street Life, Harlem, 1939. Picture: 2017. Photo Smithsonian American Art Museum/ Art Resource/ Scala, Florence

This is as much a show of history depict as Revolution: Russian Art 1917 -1 932, its timely attendant at the Royal Academy. But it also presents, as never before, the excellent variety of Americas 30 s avant garde. In one gallery alone they are able to jumping from Hopper to OKeeffe to the quasi-abstract precisionists, early Jackson Pollock, political Philip Guston and the thick-skulled impasto of William H Johnsons post-cubist couple beneath a chunky Harlem moon.

Several of these painters had been to Europe. Stuart Daviss New York: Paris No 3 is a ravishing act, brilliantly designed in all its syncopated flatness. But despite the name, it wreaks little back from France. In Daviss transglobal streetscape, Paris is nothing but an old-time hotel advertising Vins compared to the America of flickering gas station, signposts, mailboxes, high-rises, surging planes and sheer graphic zip. America is magnificently new.

This picture was formed in 1931, the year The Star-Spangled Banner grew Americas national chant and Charles Demuth borrowed its texts for And the Home of the Brave . This view of a modern mill makes a formidably suave geometry of the refrigerating tower, telegraph post, spaces and suns, all summarised as an array of incisive airliners and curves. Streamlined, hard-edged and luxurious, its a carol to the industrial age.

Hanging next to it is Charles Sheelers famed American Landscape , in which the Ford Motor factory shows luminous and frozen as a Seurat( minus the pointillism ). Sheeler is just as exacting as Demuth, but there is a clue of spiritual dejection in his magnificently silent background, devoid of all human attendance table a scooting fleck. After the crash of 1929, Henry Ford fired millions of workers and invested machine guns against demonstrators at the factory gates.

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American Landscape, 1930 by Charles Sheeler: splendidly silent. Photograph: Museum of Modern Art, New York/ Scala, Florence

Superbly curated by the Art Institute of Chicago, this is a show of ever-changing visions, temperaments, new ideas and modes. It is also perfectly choreographed so that the poor pitch-black cotton pickers of Thomas Hart Benton was contained in direct contrast to Grant Woods joyful white-hot sharecroppers, say, and the gothic windows in Paul Samples Church Supper communicate straight to the window in Woods American Gothic .

It is only when you receive Lumbers masterpiece surrounded by contemporary images of abandoned farms and urban devastation that its down-home, backward-looking quaintness rightfully registries. And what a beautiful depict it is: linear as a Botticelli and so radiantly clear.

In a picture full of fiercely trenchant depicts Alice Neels gallant portrait of the union organiser Pat Whalen, fists making down on the newspaper headlines; Mussolini as a green-faced jack-in-a-box; Gustons horrifying Guernica tondo Woods lyrical ruralism still views its own. The monarch and queen of the midwest, their home a clapboard castling, his pitchfork a sceptre.

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Linear as a Botticelli: Grant Woods American Gothic, 1930. Picture: The Art Institute of Chicago

America After the Fall is nothing less than a condensed museum of prowes , not to be missed by anyone with the slightest interest in painting. And each handiwork perceives evenly succinct. Easel decorates, on a small and human scale, they nonetheless contain the essence of 30 s America, from the Thanksgiving turkey to the Ku Klux Klan to Jean Harlow at the movies.

Most emblematic of all, perhaps, is Edward Hoppers Gas , in which a solitary person mans a filling station in the middle of nowhere. Hes putting the shoot back, hes staring into the dial, hes falling apart: who knows? The garage puts empty, its light-colored malevolent as the sunset derive over the timbers, portending a thousand movies. The rural past satisfies the industrial future in this perception of a lone American lost out there in the spreading vastness.

America after the Fall: Decorate in the 1930 s is at the Royal Academy, London until 4 June

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