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 NC Wyeth  (1882 - 1945)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/Maine/Massachusetts      Known for: book illustrator, murals, painting

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is from The New York Times online edition, 1/25/2001:

N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), America's greatest illustrator as well as an accomplished easel painter, dedicated his career to depicting American subjects in a fresh, energetic manner uninfluenced by European art - "true, solid American subjects - nothing foreign about them," as he put it in 1903.

Reflecting times in which unconditional loyalty to country was taken for granted and the American flag was a sacred symbol of freedom, N.C. executed works that encapsulated those very American qualities.  As television anchorman Tom Brokaw points out in his catalogue essay, the patriarch of the Wyeth clan "was a man of the first half of the century, roughly from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when Americans seemed to be framed in red, white and blue bunting and the background music was "Yankee Doodle Dandy" or Kate Smith singing "God Bless America".

N.C.'s lifelong veneration for America's historical traditions, growing out of his New England heritage and strengthened by his Chadds Ford residency in the history-rich Brandywine Valley, manifested itself in idealized, heroic images of such larger-than-life personalities as Paul Revere, George Washington, Nathan Hale, Thomas Jefferson, John Paul Jones and Abraham Lincoln.  He painted stalwart views of Stonewall Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant and action-packed renditions of Civil War combat, suggesting valor and patriotism on both sides.

Commissioned by the government during World War I to create recruiting and propaganda posters, Wyeth had an output that ranged from images of brave doughboys helping their wounded mates, in "WWI Poster" (1918), to dramatic paintings of terrified Huns surrendering to gun-toting American infantrymen in Kamerad! (1919).

Along with other Americans, N.C. was horrified by stories of atrocities committed by the German Army.  He responded with vivid, impassioned images, such as "The Abdication of Attila" (1917), done for Life magazine, that suggested that Kaiser Wilhelm had outstripped the infamous Attila the Hun as the epitome of "supreme evil" and the "arch-tyrant" of history. Pondering an offer from the War Department to become an official artist at the Western Front, Wyeth remarked, "I wouldn't mind a crack at a Boche or two, and would be tickled to death if I could disembowel their divine leader...."

Responding with equal patriotic fervor to the challenge of World War II, Wyeth underscored the determination of Uncle Sam and our citizen army in Amateurs at War: The American Soldier in Action (1943) and the heroism of GIs in the Pacific in Marines Landing on the Beach (1944). He recognized the contributions of farmers to the Allied effort in Soldiers of the Soil (1942), an illustration for a Brown and Bigelow calendar, and in another calendar work, Our Emblem (1944), reflected the symbolism of the American eagle protecting a tranquil New England hamlet.

Wyeth's colorful Buy War Bonds (1942), featuring an assertive Uncle Sam clutching Old Glory and urging on planes overhead and infantrymen on the ground, helped the Treasury Department sell a lot of bonds to back the war effort.  One poster sold $200,000 worth of bonds, while another took in $1 million, according to Wyeth biographer David Michaelis.

In a tempera-on-panel, The War Letter (1941) he depicted his parents on the bucolic grounds of their home in Needham, Mass.  As his mother reads a letter from the morning mail and a newspaper describing overseas developments lies next to her, his father looks on.  It is a poignant vignette reflecting keen home front concern about unfolding wartime events.

To N.C. Wyeth, the choice between good and evil, freedom and tyranny in both World Wars was clear.  His characteristically bold, forceful images, imbued with old-fashioned patriotism, helped spur an embattled America on to victory in both conflicts.









This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Needham, Massachusetts, N C Wyeth became one of the foremost book illustrators and mural painters in America in the early part of the 20th century.  He did illustrations for most of the major magazines and book publishers in the United States.

He grew up on a farm near Walden Pond, Massachusetts with parents who encouraged his art talent that was inherited by his descendants including son and daughter, Andrew Wyeth and Henrietta Hurd, and grandson, Jamie.

He studied art in high school and in Boston, and in 1902 entered the Howard Pyle School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware.  He went often with Pyle's classes to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  Pyle taught his students to paint with great description and vitality as though it were life itself, and Wyeth, a subscriber to this view, was later credited with being even more skilled than Pyle.

His first sale of a painting was a wild bucking bronco, which became the Saturday Evening Post cover of February 21, 1903.  The painting resulted from sketches Wyeth had made in the Southwest with his parents in his youth and from seeing the work of Frederic Remington in many weekly newspapers.

As a magazine illustrator for Scribners, he traveled in the West including Arizona in 1904, and in 1906, he returned to the West on assignment for Outing magazine. From these trips, he produced over four-hundred illustrations and paintings.  During the visits, he drove a stage coach, climbed many mountains, and visited Indian tribes. When he returned to Delaware, he had numerous sketches and also artifacts he collected, which he subsequently used in his paintings.

After his illustrations for "A Day with the Roundup," a story that appeared in Scribners, he had more requests for western illustration work than he could fill.  And for the remainder of his life, this subject was one he frequently painted.

He also illustrated children's books including Treasure Island.  With money earned from that project, he bought eighteen acres of land at Chadd's Ford west of Philadelphia, which served as his studio and his family home for nine decades and, after the death of his wife in 1973, became the site of Brandywine River Museum.  In the 1920s, he became increasingly committed to easel painting, and he tried very hard to stay away from too many outside commitments so he was free to paint at Chadd's Ford or the Maine seacoast where he and his family vacationed.  Later he told students that to be a good illustrator, one had to become an artist first.

Feeling a need to paint on larger surfaces, in the 1930s he began painting large-scale murals, and earned many commissions for public and private businesses.  Many of his mural themes were based on American history.

In 1941, he was elected to the National Academy of Design in New York and was also a member of the Salmagundi Club, the Society of Illustrators, and the American Federation of the Arts.  His work is in the collections of The Brandywine River Museum and the Delaware Art Center in Wilmington.

At the peak of a brilliant career, he was killed with a grandson in a train/car accident near Chadd's Ford in 1945.


Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Walt Reed, The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000



This biography from the Archives of AskART:
N. (Newell) C. (Convers) Wyeth (October 22, 1882-October 19, 1945), is one of the most celebrated illustrators in the history of art.  He grew up on a farm in New England, and studied at the Massachusetts Normal Arts School where he attended classes taught by illustrators Eric Pape and Charles W. Reed.  During 1902-04 he studied with the great illustrator Howard Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware.
 
Wyeth  accepted a commission from Scribner's and the Saturday Evening Post to paint western scenes, and traveled in the west to gain first hand knowledge of subjects.  He worked as a ranch hand in Colorado and rode mail routes in New Mexico and Arizona.

In 1906, Wyeth and Carolyn Brenneman Bockius were married in the Wilmington Unitarian church, and they made their home in nearby Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  The focus of his painting soon shifted to the land and people of the region in which he lived.
 
In 1911, Wyeth won a commission from Charles Scribner's Sons to illustrate a new edition of R. L. Stevenson's Treasure Island, a work that made him famous.  He provided illustrations for dozens of other classic books, including Kidnapped (1913), The Black Arrow (1916), The Legends of Robin Hood (1917), The Last of the Mohicans (1919), and The Yearling (1939).

The Wyeths were members of the First Unitarian Society of Wilmington.  All their children (Nathaniel, an inventor; Ann Wyeth McCoy, a composer; and artists Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Carolyn and Andrew) grew up in the church, though none of them remained active Unitarian Universalists.  The Unitarian Laymen's League commissioned Wyeth in 1922 to illustrate a book on the parables of Jesus.  He completed six paintings for the project, and they were published in the Boston Traveler.  In 1937 Wyeth donated to the Wilmington church a painting of Jesus holding a baby.

His wife Carolyn introduced Wyeth to Thoreau, and the book Walden was an important source of inspiration for the family.  NC Wyeth is known to have approached his art with a religious spirit and to have called his Chadds Ford studio "my church."

Wyeth died at Chadds Ford in October, 1945.


Source:
website of the Unitarian Universalist Historical Society: www.uua.org

Biography from American Illustrators Gallery:
One of the most successful illustrators of all time, Newell Convers Wyeth studied under Howard Pyle between 1902-1904 in Chadds Ford. Perhaps more than any other student, he took Pyle’s dictates completely to heart. He was the pre-eminent example of the results of Pyle’s teachings by following every precept, religiously.

During his career, Wyeth painted nearly four-thousand illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post, and many other magazines and books. An early aficionado of Pyle’s he became his greatest advocate even settling his family in the Brandywine area and in Maine, where Wyeth’s still live today. Much of NC Wyeth’s art embraced an American Western theme, filled with cowboys and Indians, gun fighters and gold miners. He also illustrated popular kid's books topped off with pirates, knights, and brigands in novels entitled Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer - which established visual images of the characters in young readers minds eye, for generations.

Amongst all his illustration plaudits, NC Wyeth is famous for being the father of artist Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of artist Jamie Wyeth–having founded a patrimony of major consequence American art history-a dynasty of celebrated artists. N.C. sold his first illustration to the Post in 1903, at twenty-one years of age, and his first book commission was accepted in 1911, illustrating Treasure Island for the noted publisher, Charles Scribner. So well received was his first book, that he went on to illustrate a whole range of beloved ‘boys adventure books’ which came to be known as Scribner’s Classics, including Kidnapped, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, The Boy’s King Arthur, and The Last of the Mohicans, and twenty other titles. The Scribner’s Classics have never waned in popularity and many are still in print today.

Wyeth’s valiant and heroic-type characters, created prototypes of American heroes, which have lasted and set the standard for movie, television, and computer game heroes. Many of our real life heroes are modeled on those first envisaged by NC Wyeth as most boys see themselves in roles of an heroic nature and act accordingly when the occasion arises. The public seems to crave the singularly, dignified yet casual images which they learned as children from looking at pictures in books illustrated by this master. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas grew up with these images and Indiana Jones could well have come directly from a Scribner’s Classic, as first envisaged and then painted by N.C. Wyeth.

Born in Needham, Massachusetts, nearby Boston in 1882, Newell Convers Wyeth showed an early passion for drawing and was encouraged by his family. From 1903, until his tragic death in a 1945 car accident at a railroad crossing, N.C. Wyeth set new standards for illustrators, in styles, in technique, and through his imagination. He had an extraordinary ability to create living characters from an author’s imaginary story. Because of his fantastical imagination, he envisaged all aspects of a story, often times identifying crucial elements often overlooked by the author himself. Cooper, DeFoe, Irving, Stevenson, and Verne were some of the authors whose works he illustrated.

As a youth, he was enrolled by his parents in the Massachusetts Normal Arts School with further study at the Eric Pape School of Art. In 1901, N.C. was in Annisquam, Gloucester, Massachusetts, attending private classes taught by George L. Noyes, a landscape artist. He got two things from Noyes’ class, 1). a love of nature and plein aire painting, and 2). A new friend in Clifford Ashley who had just been accepted into Howard Pyle’s new art school in Wilmington.

Ashley suggested that Wyeth should try to enroll and join him in Delaware to study with the famous, Howard Pyle. Recognized as the foremost illustrator, students, were able to view his work in almost every national magazine, and he was worshiped by young aspiring artists. Pyle, on the other hand, now wished to pass along his knowledge to the best young artists proselytizing them as illustrators.

N.C. Wyeth arrived in Wilmington on his twentieth birthday and met Howard Pyle for the first time. Some have said that Pyle’s greatest contribution to his students other than teaching and providing inspiration, were his many contacts with publishers and art directors. He quite often secured commissions and staff positions for his students. Pyle exhorted his students to “jump into their paintings to know the place” they were depicting. To go and experience the environments, and Wyeth took him literally, and went out West and lived with the Utes and Navahos.

For three months he punched cattle, herded, was a mail-carrier, and documented his experiences in meticulous drawings. When he returned his incredible artwork was sought after and published at an astonishing rate.

N.C. Wyeth married in 1906, moved to Chadds Ford and continued to illustrate books and magazines, advertisements, and mural commissions, and that which he cherished most, the rural American scene. Wyeth also illustrated a number of books for Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, Houghton Mifflin Company, Little Brown and Company, David McKay Company, and Harper and Brothers. Notable among them were the Mysterious Stranger (1916), Robin Hood (1917), Robinson Crusoe (1920), Rip Van Winkle (1921) and The White Company (1922).

Wyeth found it financially lucrative to accept commercial work in the form of advertisements, calendars and posters. The range and the quality of these advertisements vary from the elementary Lucky Strike and Coca-Cola series to the beautiful paintings of Beethoven, Wagner and Liszt for Steinway & Sons.

For years, Wyeth looked upon illustration as a financial means of support for his family but wanted most of all to be recognized as a fine artist. In the 1930's, N.C. Wyeth was accepting fewer illustration and advertising commissions and devoted more time to easel painting of landscapes.

©2004 National Museum of American Illustration

Biography from Questroyal Fine Art, LLC:
In 1912, N.C. Wyeth exhibited his first landscape painting at the Philadelphia Sketch Club. While landscape painting was not Wyeth’s main focus, he took pride in conveying reality in his commercial work and often included rural scenes of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania as backdrops for his illustrations. In 1913 and 1914 he received an award for illustration from the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts. The next year Wyeth took on his first students, Clark Fay, Pitt Fitzgerald, Dwight Howland, and Leal Mack. Later, in 1917, he met possibly his greatest student, when his wife Carolyn Wyeth gave birth to her fifth child and last child, Andrew Newell Wyeth.

Wyeth’s artistic career further developed with his expansion into mural work over the next few decades. In 1918 Wyeth completed a mural at the Sub-Treasury Building in New York City. Two years later he was commissioned to paint murals for the Missouri State Capital building, which he completed in the same year. Also in 1920, Wyeth purchased a home near Port Clyde, Maine–an area that would provide artistic influence for both him and his young son, Andrew. From 1923 to 1924, N.C. Wyeth was hard at work on murals for the First National Bank of Boston. In 1927, the artist assisted in the establishment of the Wilmington Academy of Art in Delaware. Curiously, it wasn’t until 1939 that Wyeth received his first solo exhibition at a commercial gallery, the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. Perhaps inspired by the quality of this show, he was elected a member of the National Academy of Design the following year, in 1940. This same year, Wyeth began work on his most ambitious mural project, a commission from the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company; the mural was so large that the finished portion of the canvas could begin to be rolled as the artist continued to work at the other end. Tragically, in 1945 Newell Convers Wyeth was killed, along with his grandson Newell Convers Wyeth II, while crossing the railroad tracks near his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

The paintings, illustrations and murals of N.C. Wyeth has been revered over the years, appreciated both as works of art and as important illustrative accompaniments to the classic American novel. His ability to produce poignant high quality images at a prolific rate combined with a great diversity in subject matter made him one of the most versatile American painters of the 20th century. In building upon the skills and style gleaned from his teacher, Howard Pyle, Wyeth established a new standard for American illustration art. His artwork remains highly prized throughout the United States, as evident by museum acquisitions, and by his continued popularity in the art market.

Biography from Altermann Galleries and Auctioneers, VII:
It is generally agreed that N.C. Wyeth is one of the finest illustrators in American art history.  His work embodies every perfection of the illustrator’s art, a fact that has proved to be both a blessing and a curse, since many people fail to realize what an accomplished “pure” artist he was.  Wyeth’s career was launched at the age of twenty when he was accepted as one of the select few to study with the reigning master of illustration, Howard Pyle.  Almost immediately Wyeth’s talent became apparent, and Pyle engineered a trip to the Southwest for his young protégé in order to gather material for future work in western subjects.

The trip was a major importance to the young artist.  “I feel this experience ad much to do with how he ever afterward saw nature,” the writer Paul Horgan recalled.  “He saw it there, under the sun which so vastly plays light upon mountains, and plains, and continents of clouds, in a grand abstraction. That light and that landscape became his symbols for fabled places when later he needed to represent them”

Wyeth only made one other trip to the West, a short one in 1906, but out of these two journeys he fashioned countless visions, including two extensively illustrated accounts which he wrote himself: “A Day with the Round-Up,” and “A Sheep-Herder of the Southwest,” published in Scribner’s in 1906 and 1909, respectively.

There seems little doubt that N.C. Wyeth’s paintings of western themes reflect the influence of Frederic Remington, although Wyeth’s abilities were far too great for him to be labeled a mere imitator.  Instead, Wyeth seems to have used Remington as a departure point for a more elaborated, dramatic style.  The strength of Wyeth’s art, as in this work, lies in his ability to let the work stand solely on its own merits.  It’s subject recalls the words of Charles M. Russell, who was sympathetic to such men. “He ain’t long forgettin’ civilization,” Russell wrote. “Living with nature ‘n’ her people this way, he goes backward till he’s a raw man, without any flavorin’.” One can easily sense that kind of spirit in N.C. Wyeth’s powerful painting.


Source:
Dr. Rick Stewart, The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier



Biography from Frank E. Fowler:
One of America's leading artists of the first half of the twentieth century, N.C. Wyeth achieved recognition as both an illustrator and painter.  Indeed, during the course of his career, he produced over 3,000 illustrations as well as an abundance of oil paintings, murals, and temperas, all showing his technical mastery as well as his vibrant energy, enthusiasm and love of life.  Wyeth also founded a powerful artistic dynasty that includes his son, Andrew and grandson, Jamie and late daughters Carolyn and Henriette.

N.C. was born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882.  He received his early formal training in the Boston area, attending the Mechanics Arts High School, the Massachusetts Normal Art School and the Eric Pape School of Art.  He also studied privately with the book illustrator, Charles W. Reed, and the painter, Charles H. Davis.

However, the greatest impact on his aesthetic development occurred during 1902-1904, when he studied under the illustrator Hower Pyle in Wilmington, Delaware.  Pyle, recognized for his vigorous style, sense of romance and emphasis on fine craftsmanship, had a lasting influence on N.C.'s style and subject matter.

After publishing his first illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post in January of 1903, Wyeth's work graced the pages of the foremost magazines of the day, among them, Collier's, Harper's, Scribner's, Cosmopolitan, Century, and McClure's,  to name only a few.

In 1904, the Post and Scribner's sponsored Wyeth's trip to Colorado and New Mexico, where he made sketches of cowboys, horses and cattle that would serve as source material for many of his later illustrations of the old West.  Wyeth also specialized in themes relating to American History and medieval subjects.



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N Wyeth is also mentioned in these AskART essays:
Civil War Art
San Francisco Panama-Pacific Exhibition 1915
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Western Painters



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