My love for popular culture of the mid 20th Century doesn’t often take me through the portals of the Royal Academy, which I always think of as the home of ‘serious’ art, but Mrs M and I found ourselves making a beeline there during an Easter break in London to catch a feast of 1930s Americana at the RA’s America After the Fall exhibition.

Focussing on art from between the 1929 Crash and the start of the Second World War, we were treated to a superb selection of works, some familiar, or by well-known artists, others a revelation to us. The exhibition followed seven themes: New York, City Life, Industrial Life, Looking to the Past, Country Life, Visions of Dystopia, and Looking to the Future. Inevitably, depictions of New York and city life in general were an instant draw for us, including two Edward Hoppers that we’d not seen before, a pair of slices of Broadway life by Reginald Marsh that instantly brought to mind the world of Runyon, and a bawdy vision of shore leave by Paul Cadmus that showed a side of sailor character that somehow got omitted (or at least bowdlerised) from On the Town! One of the Hoppers in particular set us pondering the context of the time: a lonely countryside gas station in 1940 – the last year of peace before the USA’s entry into the war in which she emerged as an industrial powerhouse; one wondered if Hopper had any idea that he was capturing a nation on the verge of transformation.

Country life, too, had us fascinated. Most steered away from the brutal reality of dirt farming in the dustbowl, although one depicting mother earth as a corpse on a dirt farm evoked Steinbeck’s stories, and Thomas Hart Benton’s Cotton Pickers, whilst in radiant colours, showed how back-breaking the work could be. We were, however, captivated by Grant Wood’s impressionist paintings of an idealised American landscape. He was also the creator of my favourite painting of the exhibition, Death on the Ridge Road, which looked as if it had come straight from the cover of a Raymond Chandler novel.

Every one of the sections had its gems. We were very taken with a Dali-esque rendering of Fascist Rome by Peter Blume; we were also pleasantly surprised to find a modernist depiction of the bombing of Guernica other than the usual Picasso (stunning though it is) in Philip Guston’s Bombardment.

I guess, though, one has to finish on the exhibition’s signature piece, another by Grant Wood, but this time his iconic American Gothic. It’s an image we’ve seen a hundred times, either in the normal form or pastiched in some way and, to be honest, I didn’t expect to be particularly moved by it. To see the original, though, was something special and makes the reproductions seem so flat in comparison; the Midwestern farmer and his daughter come to life on the canvas, and it’s easy to see why it has become so symbolic of a time in US history.

The exhibition runs until 4 June, and you can find all the details on the Royal Academy’s website. Of course, there’s a tempting shop on the way out, but we managed to restrain ourselves to a few postcards and a brochure to jog my memory when I wrote this article! Besides, there were other shopping opportunities on our schedule, not least a return to our pals at Sounds That Swing. Hmm, art or vinyl – it’s a hard call…