Artist Profile: The Wyeths

It has been a while since I have posted a profile of an artist, but I felt the need today. I get most of my news online, but every day I do give the newspaper a very quick glance-over as I’m delivering it to Al along with his breakfast. A little blurb at the bottom of the LA times front page caught my eye, announcing the passing of Andrew Wyeth.

The name “Wyeth” is one that I have known as long as I can remember knowing the name of any artist.  Some of the earliest artists that I ever became aware of individually were Kay Nielsen, Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Howard Pyle (whose illustrations struck Vincent Van Gogh, another of my favorite artists, “dumb with admiration”*) and (sensing a pattern?) the members of the Wyeth family.

The Wyeths are an incredibly talented family of American artists and illustrators that have left a deep and lasting impression on the people of America, and I would be remiss to discuss the legacy and career of Andrew Wyeth without mentioning his father N.C. Wyeth or  his sister Henriette Wyeth Hurd.

As usual with my artist profiles, I will provide a brief blurb about the artist, from an artist’s perspective, and a short sampling of their work. Now, usually when I elect to profile an artist it is an artist that’s not exactly a household name but today that is not the case.

Andrew Wyeth has been referred to at times as “The Painter of the People,” because his works have been very popular with the American populace at large. He is one of the best-known American realist artists of the mid-20th century. He shunned the rapid advancement of cities and technology, embracing a regionalist approach to his artwork by depicting rural landscapes and people of his beloved Pennsylvania nad Maine rather than dwelling on the highbrow nonrepresentation of his urban-based modernist contemporaries like Jackson Pollock or the literary subjects that his father N.C. Wyeth tended to favor. Wyeth developed a sort of spiritual connection with the landscapes and people that he painted, producing dozens of studies in various media before finally producing a finished work. He is known for his ability to convey what is not said in his pieces:  shades of subtle emotion in both figure and landscape, soft shades of psychological meaning and feeling. Where his father’s work is bold and forthright, I find Andrew’s work to be subdued and thoughtful yet still with sufficient force to catch hold of the viewer.

Enough blathering about his work, it’s time to share a few pieces and provide brief commentary.

Christinas World (1948) - one of the most significant paintings of the mid 20th century.

Christina's World (1948), tempera on panel - one of the most significant paintings of the mid 20th century.

I’d be mad to post about Andrew Wyeth without sharing the above image. It’s easily his best known piece, and it’s one that I simply adore. It is a depiction of a paralyzed (probably from polio, I understand) woman of Wyeth’s acquaintance crawling across the fields of her family farm. His models included Christina herself as well as Wyeth’s own wife because he wanted to depict how the then-middle aged Christina Olsen might have looked on her family’s land in her youth. I find this piece melancholy yet beautiful and peaceful. It’s an image that sticks with the viewer, I think.

Trodden Weeds (1951)

Trodden Weeds (1951), tempera on panel

The above piece is an interesting self-portrait. Here Wyeth, recovering from a major surgery and illness, portrays himself walking a hill in Pennsylvania that he had known his entire life. Curiously, the boots he is wearing here had once belonged to Howard Pyle. I’m not usually a fan of self-portraiture, but this piece fascinates me. Wyeth communicates a tremendous amount about himself and how he felt without revealing his face or hands, which are usually considered the most expressive parts of the body.

Okay, I could go on for days but I’ll just share two more of Andrew’s pieces, landscapes:

One of Wyeths later paintings, The Carry (2003)

The Carry (2003), tempera on panel

The above is a tempera on panel, depicting a shallow portion of a river in Maine. Wyeth painted pretty much until the end, and I had to share this one. It’s lovely and textured. The things the man could do with water, one of the hardest and most evanescent subjects that exists.

Wolf Moon (1975), watercolor on paper

Wolf Moon (1975), watercolor on paper

This piece here speaks to my dramatic sensibilities and love of chiaroscuro. I had to share it just because I love it. Plus, it shows a sketchier and looser technique than we usually see in a finished Wyeth piece.

Now, I have to share some N.C. Wyeth stuff to showcase his usual quick-reading and dramatic sensibility. I won’t go on about his bio, but I’ll let three of his pieces and Andrew’s own writings do most of my talking. I’m actually much more familiar with his work than Andrew’s.

The Giant (1923) - oil on canvas

The Giant (1923) - oil on canvas

What could evoke the imaginations of childhood and a sense of wonder more than this image? The love that Wyeth had for children is deeply evident here.

The Indian In His Solitude (1907) - oil on canvas, from The Outing publication, a depiction based on Longfellows The Song of Hiawatha

The Indian In His Solitude (1907) - oil on canvas, from The Outing publication, a depiction based on Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha"

That one’s got drama, but it’s drama in repose tied up in the face and form of a lone figure.

Illustration for Treasure Island (1911)

Illustration for Treasure Island (1911)

I couldn’t talk about N.C. Wyeth without sharing at least one shot from either Treasure Island, King Arthur, The Last of the Mohicans or Robin Hood. It would somehow be against the laws of physics.

Because this has gone on forever, I’ll just share one image by Andrew’s sister Henriette:

Death and the Child (1935)

Death and the Child (1935)

This piece is soft and sensitive, yet in a very different way from Andrew’s sensitivity. The soft focus is a bit more overt in its sentiment, but focuses on the tragedies inherent in life and the loss of a loved one rather than drawing out the motion in landscapes.

Anyhow, I hope that this snapshot will inspire you to look deeper and I hope that you will share my appreciation for the works of this deeply, richly talented family. That’s all for today.

Current Music: Propellerheads – Spybreak!


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2 Responses to “Artist Profile: The Wyeths”

  1. Lea Says:

    That first picture with Christina was in my art text book back in early high school. I was entranced by it. I even copied it in a different technique for a project. Thank you for sharing more of his works!

    • casewerk Says:

      I’m glad to share. Andrew Wyeth’s work is really interesting stuff and I wanted to help a few folks know and appreciate his art.

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