1917 (Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania)
2009 (Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania)
© Martin O'Rourke
Often Known For
Figure, portrait, landscape and genre painting
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Painters of Nudes
|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|A painter of landscape and figure subjects in Pennsylvania and Maine,
Andrew Wyeth became one of the best-known American painters of the 20th
century. His style is both realistic and abstract, and he works
primarily in tempera and watercolor, often using the drybrush technique.|
is the son of Newell Convers and Carolyn Bockius Wyeth of Chadds Ford,
Pennsylvania, and was home-schooled because of delicate health. His art
instruction came from his famous-illustrator father, who preached the
tying of painting to life--to mood and to essences and to capturing the
subtleties of changing light and shadows.
The Wyeth household
was a lively place with much intellectual and social stimulation.
Because of the prominence of N.C. Wyeth, persons including many
dignitaries came from all over the country to visit the family.
Andrew's sisters Carolyn and Henriette became noted artists as did his
brother-in-law, Peter Hurd. The non-art oriented brother, Nathaniel
Wyeth, achieved much success as a chemist for DuPont where, among many
inventions, he created a durable plastic so plastic bottles could hold
Andrew Wyeth maintained a style strongly
oriented towards Realism when Abstract Expressionism was all-prevalent.
Adhering to his own path, he was snubbed by many prominent art critics.
However, his paintings have elements of abstraction in that the work
derives from his strong feelings about his subjects, which often appear
in unusual positions, juxtapositions, and with features highlighted for
emotional effect. His work usually suggests rural quiet, isolation, and
somber mood and is devoid of modern-day objects such as automobiles.
1937, Wyeth's first one-man show of watercolors depicting scenes around
Port Clyde, Maine, sold out at the Macbeth Gallery in New York.
In Maine, Andrew first spent his summers in Port Clyde with his family,
but after his marriage to Betsy James in 1940, he and his wife went
regularly to Cushing.
Christina Olson of Cushing, at the end
of Hathorn Point, was his most famous model, but over the years, Wyeth
formed close friendships with - and painted - several other Maine
neighbors. His closest friend, Walt Anderson, gradually ages
before the eyes of viewers in numerous Wyeth drawings and paintings
that show life's changes from the youthful Young Swede (1939) to the older man in Adrift (1982).
Olson House, where Christina and her brother lived, is now owned and
maintained by the Farnsworth Museum, where Wyeth had his first major
exhibition in 1951 and where the Andrew Wyeth Gallery is now a
permanent exhibition place for his paintings. In 1964, the
directors of the Farnsworth Museum paid $65,000 for Wyeth's painting Her Room,
the highest price ever paid by a museum for the work of a living
artist. The Olson House is the first property ever named to the
National Register of Historic Places for being recognized as the site
of a painting, Christina's World, one of the most recognized paintings in American art.
the death of Christina Olson, Wyeth used female models Siri Erickson of
Cushing, and Helga Testorf of Chadds Ford. Depictions of the nude
Helga, a total of 240 works, provided grist for an avalanche of
sensational publicity. The Helga paintings were exhibited in 1987
at the National Gallery of Art, the gallery's first exhibition of works
by a living artist.
Wyeth has received many official honors. In 1963, he was the subject of a cover story for Time
magazine and, thanks to President John F. Kennedy, he became the first
visual artist to be nominated for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In
1990, Wyeth received the Congressional Gold Medal, the first artist to
have that honor.
Andrew and his wife Betsy have two sons,
Nicholas and Jamie Browning, the latter who has become a prominent
American artist, and the former who shares with his father and his
uncle, Nathaniel, a great fascination with machines, especially
Richard Meryman, Andrew Wyeth, A Secret Life
Jerry Crute, information that clarified the name of Siri Erickson and the town of Christina Olson.
Andrew Wyeth passed on in his sleep at the age of 91 on January 16, 2009 at his home in Chadds Ford.
|Biography from Frank E. Fowler:|
|The following is from Frank E. Fowler, the primary dealer of the work of Andrew Wyeth.|
A solitary figure for many years in contemporary American art, Andrew Wyeth is a representational watercolorist and tempera painter who ignored the taste of the art establishment during the heyday of abstract expressionism to win nationwide popularity, inspire countless imitators, and earn the highest prices ever paid for the work of a living American artist. He is generally regarded as an abstractionist in that his trees, birds, and kitchen stoves, which look precisely like trees, birds, and kitchen stoves are likely to be metaphors for loneliness, violence or decay. His pictures evoke in viewers moods with which they are familiar---often meditative or nostalgic or tranquil and sometimes unsettling, and his perception of the interiors of houses, landscapes, and people indigenous to his home environments in Pennsylvania and Maine---his only subjects, is distinctly personal. As a draughtsman, Wyeth has been compared to the Flemish masters, whom he also approaches in the opinion of John Canaday of the "New York Times" (February 14, 1967: "In the exquisite adjustment of tone, color and emphasis that make the difference between the detailed reproduction of nature and a work of art."
Andrew Newell Wyeth was born in the idyllic Pennsylvania farming village of Chadds Ford, in the valley of the Brandywine River, on July 12, 1917, the youngest of five children of Newell Convers and Carolyn Brenneman (Bockius) Wyeth. The elder Wyeth's mother and father settled in Needham, Massachusetts. When he was a young man, N.C. Wyeth moved from New England to study with the illustrator Howard Pyle in Chadds Ford, where he built his home and studio and where all his children were born. His older son, Nathaniel Convers is an engineer; two of his daughters Henriette (Mrs. Peter Hurd) and Carolyn, are painters; and another daughter, Ann (Mrs. John McCoy) is a composer of music.
As the son of the well-known mural painter and beloved illustrator of Treasure Island, Robin Hood and other children’s classics, Andrew Wyeth grew up in an atmosphere that encouraged his tendency toward the theatrical. The collection of historical costumes and props in his father’s studio nourished his romantic fantasies, in which he was free to indulge because sinus trouble in childhood prevented him from attending school and private tutoring left him with time to fill in solitude. In his conversation with Thomas Hoving for the catalogue of his exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976-1977, he recalled: "I played alone, and wandered a great deal over the hills, painting watercolors that literally exploded, slapdash over my pages, and drew in pencil or pen and ink in a wild and undisciplined manner."
Impressed by the talent of Henriette and Carolyn, N.C. Wyeth had begun instructing them in drawing at an early age. Andrew received scant attention until he was about fifteen years old, when he showed his father a toy miniature theatre he had constructed. In his academic training in his father’s studio, he gained an understanding of how to look carefully at and deeply into an object and to observe and seize its transient quality. N.C. Wyeth also taught his son the use of the materials and tools of painting, but did no impose on him his own technique.
The Wyeth family customarily spent the summer months in New England, at first in Needham, where, as a boy, Andrew acquired the feeling for pine trees apparent in his mature painting, and later beginning about 1927, in Port Clyde, Maine. His watercolor landscapes and seascapes of Maine, somewhat reminiscent of Winslow Homer, made up the greater part of his first one-man show, a sell out, at the William Macbeth Gallery in New York Clity in October 1937. Immediate success, however, did not reassure Wyeth, an exceedingly self-critical artist. Feeling that his work was too facile and spontaneous, he returned to his father’s studio to pursue realism by concentrating on the human figure and over a period of some months, at the suggestion of his father, drew a skeleton from all angles.
While continuing to paint his deft and flamboyant watercolors, such as his 1942 series of lobsters, Wyeth soon began working in egg tempera, a technique to which his brother-in-law, the painter Peter Hurd, introduced him. The medium of tempera, together, with the drybrush method he often employed, forced Wyeth to slow down the execution of a painting and enabled him to achieve the superb textural effects that distinguish his work. He exhibited his temperas at a 1941 Macbeth Gallery show and at the "Amercan Realists and Magic Realists" show in 1943 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York where he was represented in the latter category. Although he admired the vigor of some abstract expressionists, who were then coming into dominance, Wyeth’s statement in the show’s catalogue made clear the difference between him and the avant-gardists: "My aim is to escape from the medium with which I work. To leave no residue of technical mannerisms to stand between my expression and the observer. To seek freedom of so-called free and accidental brushwork . . . Not to exhibit craft but rather to submerge it; and make it rightfully the hand-maiden of beauty, power and emotional content.
What Wyeth regards as the turning point in his life and career came with the death in October 1945 of his father, whose car was hit by a train at a railroad crossing in Chadds Ford. Wyeth’s paintings in several solo shows at the Macbeth Gallery and various group shows had earned critical respect for their lyrical and imaginative characteristics and indications of steady development in brushwork, use of color, and treatment of light. But referring to the death of his father in an interview with Richard Meryman for Life (May 14, 1965), Wyeth said, "When he died, I was just a clever watercolorist-lots of swish and swash." The tragic accident left him with the resolve "to really do something serious" with his talent and training. "I had always had this great motion toward the landscape," he told Meryman, "and so with his death, …the landscape took on a meaning-the quality of him."
The increased importance of emotion in Wyeth’s work is evident in the poignant but restrained tempera Winter 1946, on which he concentrated for several months following his father’s death. He expressed his own feeling in the form of a boy running precipitously down a hill as the bright winter’s sun casts an accompanying shadow in flight. While at work on the painting, Wyeth felt much remorse that he had never done a picture of his father, but he said in the Life interview, "the hill finally became a portrait of him." It was at a crossing on the other side of the hill that his father had been killed.
Although the human figure does appear occasionally in Wyeth’s early work, such as "Rum Runner" (1944), it was not until after his father’s death that he began in earnest to paint people. Most of his portraits are of a single figure, unsmiling and reflective, transmitting a sense of loneliness. Mary Rose Beaumont suggested in Art & Artists (August 1980) that he found a surrogate father in Karl Kuerner, a German-born Chadds Ford neighbor whose farm, of 150 or more acres, had fascinated Wyeth since childhood. In 1948, after making many preliminary drawings, he painted what he considers to be his best portrait, Karl.
"Wyeth’s photgraphic realism is deceptively simple: it is built upon a many-dimensional relation to his work," Allen S. Weller wrote in regard to that painting in Art USA Now (1963). "…Karl’s weather-beaten face corresponds to the weathered ceiling. The abstract flat surface aesthetics of the ceiling are brutally broken by the third visage of Karl, a juxtaposition as vivid in optical effect as a surrealist’s psychic impact. The psychic is not omitted, however-much is hung on Karl’s relation to the ceiling hooks."
Equivalents of ceiling hooks in some of Wyeth’s other pictures often have the effect, among others, of avoiding the "sweetness" that he deplores in much realistic painting. The jagged, menacing edge of a sawed log, seen through the window of a sun-filled room in Kuerner’s house, threatens the calm of Groundhog Day (1959,) one of Wyeth’s most widely admired works. Through such details as the log and the table set for one, the artist intended to capture what he called "the very essence of the man," Karl, who is not present in the picture.
Nor do the cattle appear in Brown Swiss (1957), his landscape "portrait" of the Kuerner farm. The painting owes its title to a pencil sketch of a Brown Swiss, but its inspiration came from a sidelong glimpse that Wyeth once had of Kuerner’s house reflected in a pond. In the process of abstracting and transmitting his impression, he made scores of painstaking drawings and watercolor sketches, eventually reducing the Brown Swiss to cattle tracks across the field and, as he explained to Hoving, making his predominant color "almost like the tawny brown pelt of a Brown Swiss bull." Other Wyeth pictures associated with Kuerner, who died in 1979, include the tempera Spring Fed (1967), and interior of the mild room; the drybrush watercolor landscape Evening at Kuerners (1970); the tempera portrait Anna Kuerner (1971) and the double portrait ‘the Kuerners (1971).
Among Wyeth’s many works that belong to his Pennsylvania experience, but not specifically the Kuerners, is Trodden Weed (1951), a picture reportedly admired by Nikita S. Khrushchev, depicting the booted legs of a man walking on a brown hill. He conceived the idea for the painting while recuperating from a severe illness, when he slowly roamed the fields wearing a pair of boots that had once been part of Howard Pyle’s costume collection and watching his feet and the ground beneath. The painting may symbolize death itself or man’s rejection of illness and death.
For Wyeth, the Pennsylvania countryside meant solid stone walls and soggy, rich earth, in contrast to Maine, which seemed to him "all dry bones and desiccated sinews," as he was quoted as saying in the catalogue of his Metropolitan Museum of Art show. But Maine appealed to him strongly because of a simplicity that he found to be disappearing elsewhere in America. He tried to epitomize the people and the land in portraits like The Patriot (1964) and scenes like River Cove (1958).
On his twenty-second birthday, while spending the summer in Maine, Wyeth met Betsy Merle James, the daughter of a newspaper editor. They were married the following year, on May 15, 1940. At their first meeting Betsy James had taken Wyeth to Cushing to introduce him to her long-time friend Christina Olson, who had been crippled by polio in childhood. It was her weather-beaten, three-story, steep-roofed, clapboard house, built on a coastal promontory, rather than Christina herself, that attracted Wyeth’s interest on that occasion. But Christina’s personality and qualities that seemed to Wyeth to represent Maine gradually made her his favorite subject. The Olsons-Christina and her brother Alvaro, a blueberry farmer, were the Maine counterpart of the Kuerners. He was free to come and go in the Olson household, as he was at the Kuerners’, and turned a second-story room in Christina’s house into a studio.
Christina’s World (1948), a tempera owned by the Museum of Modern Art, has a haunting appeal and broad symbolism that account largely for its having become probably Wyeth’s most popular work. Christina---whose crippled condition, like the peeling wallpaper of a Wyeth interior, does not immediately engage the viewer’s attention---drags herself through a blueberry field toward her distant house. Only her pink dream relieves the bleakness of the landscape. Wyeth’s tender, subtle portraits, Christina Olson (1947), Miss Olson (1952), and Anna Christina (1967), as Mary Rose Beaumont pointed out, make it clear that "Christina is not the eager, young yearning woman of Christina’s World, but an ugly, hideously crippled middle-aged woman, whose quality of mind Wyeth admired to the point where ugliness is transcended in the loving truth of his portrayal."
Among Wyeth’s most memorable works are some of his interior and exterior paintings of Christina’s house, including Wind from the Sea (1947), Seed Corn (1948), and Weather Side (1965). End of Olsons, a view of part of the roof and chimney of the house, was painted in 1969, the year after Christina’s death, and is the last of his pictures relating to the Olson environment. But among his neighbors in Maine, Wyeth found quite a different subject for his portraits in the teen-age girl, Siri, whose father, George Erickson, he painted in The Finn (1969). The seminude Bikini (1968), the topless Sauna (1969), and the nudes The Virgin (1969), Indian Summer (1970), and Black Water (1978) belong to a series that Robert Hughes in Time (September 3, 1973) placed among "the solidest and least theatrical of Wyeth’s work." In his interview with Hoving, Wyeth contrasted his pictures of Siri, which represented "an invigorating, zestful, powerful phenomenon," with those of Christina, "which symbolize the deterioration and the dwindling of something."
Having rarely, if ever, looked beyond his Maine and Pennsylvania homes for his subject matter, Wyeth has long been confronted with critics’ misgivings about his narrowness of range. He insists upon painting what he knows best and what involves him emotionally. "Realism without emotion is dead painting. Like Normarn Rockwell," he maintained in his discussion with Selden Rodman for Conversations with Artists (1957). Talking with Hoving, he coupled the emotional with the technical in assuring quality. "Emotion is my bulwark," he said. "I think that’s the only thing that endures, finally."
Because of his emphasis on his feelings towards his subjects, Wyeth has occasionally been charged with lapsing into sentimentality, especially in his evocation of the past. Some other critics also deride the anecdotal references in paintings like Distant Thunder (1961), in which a woman, Betsy Wyeth, lies asleep in a blueberry field on a summer day while the family dog nearby grows anxious about an ominous sound. But Wyeth is generally praised for lack of pathos in his treatment of old age and similar subjects and, to use Weller’s words, "an almost animistic feeling for his rural milieu." Searching for a deeper meaning in whatever he paints, he strives to convey silence in the fall of snow, steadfastness in the flow of water. As he explores themes of distance, with recognizable objects that have meaning for them. His subdued, nonsensual colors, primarily earth tones, suit his melancholy, or "thoughtful," the word he prefers, outlook. "It is really rather odd," John Russell wrote in the New York Times (October 24, 1976) "that a nation which rightly prides itself on its buoyancy of spirit should identify so firmly with an artist whose specialty is the study of wounded or inarticulate natures in an unforgiving landscape."
A major exhibition of Wyeth’s work drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia in 1966 and the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1966-67, and broke attendance records at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1967 before moving on to the Art Institute of Chicago. Enormous crowds also flocked to his retrospective at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1970 and to his exhibition, "Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons," which included preliminary studies of his paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 1976-77. His paintings are included in the collections of many American museums, including the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford. Twenty-six of his paintings, constituting the most extensive collection aside from the artist’s own, are in the permanent collection of the Greenville County Museum of Art in Greenville, South Carolina.
In a choice reflecting public taste in painting, President John F. Kennedy named Wyeth in 1963 as the first artist to receive the Presidential Freedom Award, the country’s highest civilian award. Another president, Richard Nixon, honored Wyeth in 1970 with a dinner and private exhibition of his paintings at the White House. On that "first time" occasion Nixon toasted him as the painter who had "caught the heart of America." Wyeth’s other tributes include the gold medal for painting of the National Institute of Arts and Letters for 1965 and scores of painting and watercolor prizes and honorary degrees. In 1977 he made his first trip to Europe, to be inducted into the French Academy of the Fine Arts, becoming the only American artist since John Singer Sargent to be admitted to the Academy. The Soviet Academy of the Arts elected him an honorary member in 1978.
Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, who helps her husband in business matters and with exhibitions, have two sons. A tempera profile of his older son, Nicholas, (1956) in which Wyeth caught the evanescent quality of youth, was a favorite of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. James Browning (Jamie) Wyeth, a noted painter in his own right, was the daydreaming boy wearing a coonskin hat whom his father painted in the drybrush watercolor Faraway (1952). The Wyeth homestead in Chadds Ford consists of an eighteenth-century miller’s house, a gristmill now used as a studio, and a converted granary, all of which have been carefully restored. In Cushing, Wyeth lives in a restored eighteenth-century clapboard house. His fondness for simple things does not mean that his tastes are ordinary or inexpensive in houses, cars or clothes. He often wears suits with collars made by Pennsylvania Germans. The rangy blue-eyed-artist dislikes intrusion into his private life and is apt to be reserved at times. But his neighbors know him as a "down-to-earth guy" with a hearty laugh. "He’s a tease and a mimic," Amei Wallach reported in Newsday (October 10, 1976), "good at telling stories and doing all the voices realistically. At one point, he even thought about becoming an actor." His original work may be seen on the website: www.awyeth.com
Biography written September, 1984
|Biography from Newman Galleries:|
|Andrew Wyeth was born in Chadds Ford, PA, in 1917. He is the son
of the famous painter and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945).
Receiving his general education from tutors, Andrew Wyeth was
instructed in art by his father.|
Wyeth was a great admirer of
the Northern European Renaissance painter and printmaker, Albrecht
Durer (1471-1528), and the twentieth-century American artist, Edward
Continuing to live in Chadds Ford, Wyeth
summered in Cushing, Maine. The microscopically realistic style, which
Wyeth mastered in his tempera paintings, is a direct response to his
love for these two places and their people.
At the age of
twenty, Wyeth had his first one-man exhibition at the William Macbeth
Gallery in New York. He also exhibited at the Art Institute of
Chicago. In 1943, he participated in a group show at the Museum
of Modern Art in New York that presented “American Realists and Magic
Realists.” He exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine
Arts in 1947, and in 1966 where 200 of his paintings were on
display. In June of 1960, the Royal Academy in London, England,
held its first Andrew Wyeth retrospective exhibition, “The Two Worlds
of Andrew Wyeth.” In 1976, the exhibition came to the Metropolitan
Museum of Art in New York. In this show, Wyeth paralleled two families
through his paintings, the Kuerners from Chadds Ford and the Olsons
Wyeth was a recipient of many awards from many
institutions and societies, including the Pennsylvania Academy of the
Fine Arts, Carnegie Institute, the Wilmington Museum, the Butler Art
Institute, the American Academy & Institute of Arts (1947); the
American Watercolor Society (1952); as well as many others. President
John F. Kennedy nominated Wyeth for the Medal of Freedom and President
Lyndon B. Johnson presented it to him in 1963. In 1990, President
George Bush awarded him the Congressional Medal.
work is in many private and public collections, among them the
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston;
the Art Institute of Chicago; the National Gallery of Art, Washington,
D.C.; the University of Nebraska; New Britain Museum, and the Delaware
After his marriage in the early 1940’s, Wyeth
experienced two traumatic events that changed his art- the death of his
father in 1945 and his personal lung illness in 1950. He then turned to
portraying survivors and their surroundings in great depth and detail.
paintings possess pictorial symbolism, and his oeuvre varies in themes,
from portraying empty places and landscapes to animals and people in
their surroundings. Wyeth creates an emotionally rich record of
|Biography from Thomas Nygard Gallery:|
|ANDREW NEWELL WYETH (B. 1917)|
¨ Memorial Art Gallery, Rochester, New York.
¨ 3rd Exhibition of Watercolors by Andrew Wyeth, Doll & Richards, Inc., Boston Massachusetts.
Born to the famous western painter and illustrator Newell Convers
Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth was educated privately and trained in the arts by
his father. It took little time for the budding artist to build
his own reputation. At the early age of 19, Wyeth began painting
professionally. In 1937, the William Macbeth Gallery in New York
City held a one-man show of his work. In the 1940’s, out from under the
wing of his father, the young artist was recognized by critics as an
artist of unprecedented skill and originality.
His masterpieces, such as Christina’s World, brought him
international recognition and healthy sale prices. In the following
years institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the
Los Angeles County Museum, the Boston Museum of Fine Art and several
others have acquired examples of his work.
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