Andrew Wyeth Biography
Andrew Wyeth (July 12, 1917 – January 16, 2009) was a visual artist, primarily a realist painter, working predominantly in a regionalist style. He was one of
the best-known U.S. artists of the middle 20th century, and was sometimes referred to as the "Painter of the People," due to his work's popularity with the American public.
In his art, Wyeth's favorite subjects were the land and people around him, both in his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his summer home in Cushing, Maine.
One of the most well-known images in 20th-century American art is his oil painting, Christina's World, currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Andrew Wyeth was the youngest of the five children of illustrator and artist N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth and his wife, Carolyn Bockius Wyeth. He was the brother of inventor Nathaniel Wyeth and artist Henriette Wyeth Hurd, and the father of Nicholas Wyeth and artist Jamie Wyeth. Andrew was home-tutored because of his frail health, and learned art from his father, who inspired his son's love of rural landscapes, sense of romance, and a feeling for Wyeth family history and artistic traditions. Wyeth started drawing at a young age, and with his father’s guidance, he mastered figure study and watercolor, and later learned egg tempera from brother-in-law Peter Hurd. He studied art history on his own, admiring many masters of Renaissance and American painting, especially Winslow Homer. Like his father, the young Wyeth read and appreciated the poetry of Robert Frost and writings of Henry Thoreau and studied their relationships with nature. Music and movies also heightened his artistic sensitivity.
In 1937, at age twenty, Wyeth had his first one-man exhibition of watercolors at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. The entire inventory of oil paintings sold out, and his life path seemed certain. His style was different from his father’s: more spare, "drier," and more limited in color range. He stated his belief that "…the great danger of the Pyle school is picture-making." He did some book illustrations in his early career, but not to the extent that N.C. Wyeth did.
In 1940, Wyeth married Betsy James. Their first child Nicholas was born in 1943, followed by James ("Jamie") three years later. Wyeth painted portraits of both children.
In October 1945, his father and his three-year-old nephew, Newell Convers Wyeth II (b. 1941), were killed when their car stalled on railroad tracks near their home and was struck by a train. Wyeth referred to his father's death as a formative emotional event in his artistic career, in addition to being a personal tragedy.Shortly afterwards, Wyeth's art consolidated into his mature and enduring style; it was characterized by a subdued color palette, realistic renderings, and the depiction of emotionally charged, symbolic objects and/or people.
It was at the Olson farm in Cushing, Maine that he painted Christina's World (1948). Perhaps his most famous image, it depicts his neighbor, Christina Olson, sprawled on a dry field facing her house in the distance. Wyeth was quite inspired by his neighbor, who, because of an unknown illness resulting in her inability to walk, spent much time on the property surrounding her house.
Also in 1948, he began painting Anna and Karl Kuerner, his neighbours in Chadds Ford. Like the Olsons, the Kuerners and their farm were one of Wyeth's most important subjects for nearly 30 years. Wyeth stated about the Kuerner Farm, “I didn’t think it a picturesque place. It just excited me, purely abstractly and purely emotionally.”
The Olson house has been preserved, renovated to match its appearance in Christina's World. It is open to the public as a part of the Farnsworth Art Museum. The Kuerners' farm is available to tour through the Brandywine River Museum, as is the N.C. Wyeth home and studio.
Dividing his time between Pennsylvania and Maine, Wyeth maintained a realist painting style for over fifty years. He gravitated to several identifiable landscape subjects and models. In 1958, Andrew and Betsy Wyeth purchased and restored "The Mill," a group of 18th-century buildings that appeared often in his work, including Night Sleeper (1979). His solitary walks were the primary means of inspiration for his landscapes. He developed an extraordinary intimacy with the land and sea and strove for a spiritual understanding based on history and unspoken emotion. He typically created dozens of studies on a subject in pencil or loosely brushed watercolor before executing a finished painting, either in watercolor, drybrush (a watercolor style in which the water is squeezed from the brush), or egg tempera.
When Christina Olsen died in the winter of 1969, Wyeth refocused his artistic attention upon Siri Erickson, capturing her naked innocence in Indian Summer (1970). It was a prelude to the Helga paintings. His wife, Betsy, played an important role in his career and many critics thought she manipulated his image. She was once quoted say "I am a director and I had the greatest actor in the world."
Wyeth's art has long been controversial. As a representational artist, Wyeth created work in sharp contrast to abstraction, which gained currency in American art and critical thinking in the middle of the 20th century.
Museum exhibitions of Wyeth's oil paintings have set attendance records, but many art critics have evaluated his work less favorably. Peter Schjeldahl, art critic for The Village Voice, derided his oil paintings as "Formulaic stuff, not very effective even as illustrational 'realism.' " Common criticisms are that Wyeth's art verges on illustration and that his rural subject matter is sentimental.
Admirers of Wyeth's art believe that his oil paintings, in addition to their pictorial formal beauty, contain strong emotional currents, symbolic content, and underlying abstraction. Most observers of his art agree that he is skilled at handling the media of egg tempera (which uses egg yolk as its medium) and watercolor. Wyeth avoided using traditional oil paints. His use of light and shadow let the subjects illuminate the canvas. His oil paintings and titles suggest sound, as is implied in many paintings, including Distant Thunder (1961) and Spring Fed (1967).
On January 16, 2009, Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep at his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, after a brief illness. He was 91 years old.
One's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes.”