Andrew Wyeth: July 12, 1917-January 16, 2009...United
“What you have to do is break all the rules.”
Many contemporary artists use nature from rural America as a source of inspiration, but none quite like Andrew
Wyeth. He was born in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania in 1917. The study of art was a natural thing for young Andrew.
His father, Newell Convers Wyeth, better recognized by N.C. Wyeth, was a well known illustrator. He created illustrations for 112 books including:
Treasure Island, Robin Hood, The Last of the Mohicans and Robinson Crusoe. N.C. provided his son
with a great art foundation from the very start of life, as he home schooled Andrew. In fact he was a very advanced artist
before he knew how to read. The young Andrew was not only influenced greatly by his father, but also Winslow Homer and Albrecht
Dürer, among others. N.C. died on October 19, 1945 with a grandson after his car
stalled on a railroad crossing and was than hit by an on-coming mail train.
Andrew never painted a direct portrait of his dad, but had some paintings of people representing
his dad and depiced the events of is father’s death in the work Winter. As Andrew
walked those tracks wher his dad died, he saw a boy, Allan Lynch, running up over the hill. They walked along together, found
an old baby carrage, and thought it would be fun to ride it down the hill. They had a great time. The hill is his father and
the boy represents him; his freedom and his moving forward with life. "Let’s be sensible about this.
I put a lot of things into my work which are very personal to me. So how can the public feel these things? I think most people
get to my work through the back door. They’re attracted by the realism and they sense the emotion and the abstraction
— and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion."
1946. Tempera on board. 31 3/8 x 48 inches.
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, N.C. USA.
At the age of twenty, Andrew had his first one man show. This was the start of his great success in art. Although selling
out shows in New York, his favorite subjects remained his New England backyard. These realist and thoughtful pictures of rural
American life are what he loved and millions loved to look at. "Oftentimes people will like a picture
I paint because it’s maybe the sun hitting on the side of a window and they can enjoy it purely for itself. It reminds
them of some afternoon. But for me, behind that picture could be a night of moonlight when I’ve been in some house in
Maine, a night of some terrible tension, or I had this strange mood. Maybe it was Halloween. It’s all there, hiding
behind the realistic side." His paintings are dominated by scenes of rural Maine and Pennsylvania, but generally sticking
to the life of the New Englander. This also gave him some negative criticism, because many think that realism needs to look
metropolitan; Wyeth was as far from that standard as one could come. The paintings were created largely from tempera and watercolor.
One of Andrew’s best known works is Christina’s World, even though he thought the painting was "a complete flat tire." Christina Olson,
a neighbor of Andrew’s was painted by him many times. In this work, we see her sitting in the tall grass looking toward
home. "I would sit there by the hours working on the grass and I began to feel I was really out in the
field. I got lost in the texture of the thing." Many do not truly understand this work. Why is she in the grass? She
had polio disease that crippled her ability to walk. And we see her, helplessly looking to home. For many this is no big deal,
but for her, this is a helpless situation.
1948. Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA.
In 1986, Wyeth released 246 artworks of various media that all depict his married neighbor, Helga Testorf.
She was twanty-two years younger but he maintained that she modeled for him on a professional level, even though his wife
had no idea these works were ever created prior to their release. The whole portfolio of new works were bought by a single
collector for over ten million dollars.
N.C. and Andrew are not the only ones in this family that have a gift for art. Andrew’s son, Jamie Wyeth, is also a very well known and respected artist. Andrew allowed
his son to quit school when he was eleven years old. Jamie became a prosessional artist at eighteen and a one-man show
in New York at twenty. When he was twenty-one, he painted a portrait of President Kennedy for the Kennedy Memorial Library
and at twenty-nine painted a portrait of President Jefferson fo a Time Magazine cover celecrating the American Bicentennial.
"I get as artistically involved with a sheep or a pig as I do with a President of the United States."
And to be fair, there are several folks in this family that are professional artists.
Andrew Wyeth was greatly respected by artists and collectors. His first promamant collector was Sir
Winston Churchill. Wyeth was also awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon Johnson, and painted the portraits
of Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. Paintings valued at $100,000 in the 1960’s are now valued in excess
if a million dollars today. He worked into his old age, keeping motivated to create through a removed lung, illness, and a
hip operation. "I’m not going to let them disrupt my old age." Early in 2009, at Andrew’s
home in Chadd’s Ford, where he lived all his life, he died in his sleep. He was ninety-one years old.