Andrew Wyeth

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Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth.jpg
Wyeth receiving the National Medal of Arts in 2007
Andrew Newell Wyeth

(1917-07-12)July 12, 1917
DiedJanuary 16, 2009(2009-01-16) (aged 91)
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, US
Resting placeHathorn Cemetery, Cushing, Maine, US [1]
Known for Painting
Notable work
Christina's World
Movement regionalist
Awards Presidential Medal of Freedom

Andrew Newell Wyeth ( /ˈw.ɛθ/ WY-eth; 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.


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. Wyeth often said: "I paint my life." One of the best-known images in 20th-century American art is his painting Christina's World , currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This work executed in tempera was painted in 1948 when Wyeth was 31 years old.



N.C. Wyeth in his studio with a cowboy model NC Wyeth-cowboy model-studio.jpg
N.C. Wyeth in his studio with a cowboy model

Andrew was the youngest of the five children of illustrator and artist N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth and his wife, Carolyn Bockius Wyeth. He was born July 12, 1917, on the 100th anniversary of Henry David Thoreau's birth. Due to N.C.'s fond appreciation of Henry David Thoreau, he found this both coincidental and exciting. N.C. was an attentive father, fostering each of the children's interests and talents. The family was close, spending time reading together, taking walks, fostering "a closeness with nature" and developing a feeling for Wyeth family history. [2]

Andrew was home-tutored because of his frail health. Like his father, the young Wyeth read and appreciated the poetry of Robert Frost and the writings of Henry David Thoreau and studied their relationships with nature. Music and movies also heightened his artistic sensitivity. [3] One major influence, discussed at length by Wyeth himself, was King Vidor's The Big Parade (1925). [4] [5] He claimed to have seen the film, which depicted family dynamics similar to his own, "a hundred-and-eighty-times" and believed it had the greatest influence on his work. Vidor later made a documentary, Metaphor, where he and Wyeth discuss the influence of the film on his paintings, including Winter 1946 , Snow Flurries, Portrait of Ralph Kline and Afternoon Flight of a Boy up a Tree. [4] [6]

Wyeth's father was the only teacher that he had. Due to being schooled at home, he led both a sheltered life and one that was "obsessively focused". Wyeth recalled of that time: "Pa kept me almost in a jail, just kept me to himself in my own world, and he wouldn't let anyone in on it. I was almost made to stay in Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest with Maid Marion and the rebels." [7]

N.C. Wyeth was an illustrator known for his work in magazines, posters and advertisements. He created illustrations for books such as Treasure Island and The Last of the Mohicans. By the 1920s, Wyeth senior had become a celebrity, and the family often had celebrities as guests, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mary Pickford. The home bustled with creative activity and competition. [7] N.C. and Carolyn's five children were all talented. Henriette Wyeth Hurd, the eldest, became a painter of portraits and still lifes. Carolyn, the second child, was also a painter. Nathaniel Wyeth, the third child, was a successful inventor. Ann was a musician at a young age and became a composer as an adult. Andrew was the youngest child. [2]

N.C. Wyeth's guidance

Wyeth started drawing at a young age. He was a draftsman before he could read. [7] By the time he was a teenager, his father brought him into his studio for the only art lessons he ever had and inspired his son's love of rural landscapes, sense of romance, and artistic traditions. [2] Although creating illustrations was not a passion he wished to pursue, Wyeth produced illustrations under his father's name while in his teens. [7]

With his father's guidance, he mastered figure study and watercolor, and later learned egg tempera from his brother-in-law Peter Hurd. He studied art history on his own, admiring many masters of Renaissance and American painting, especially Winslow Homer. [3]

N.C. also fostered an inner self-confidence to follow one's own talents without thought of how the work is received. N.C. wrote in a letter to Wyeth in 1944: [8]

The great men Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect—to score a hit—does not know what he is missing!

In the same letter, N.C. correlates being a great man with being a great painter: To be a great artist, he described, requires emotional depth, an openness to look beyond self to the subject, and passion. A great painting then is one that enriches and broadens one's perspective. [8]

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. [9] Shortly afterwards, Wyeth's art consolidated into his mature and enduring style. [10]

Marriage and children

In 1940, Wyeth married Betsy James, [5] whom he met in 1939 in Maine. [11] Christina Olson, who was to become the model for Christina's World, met Wyeth through an introduction by Betsy. [11] His wife, Betsy, had an influence on Andrew as strong as that of his father, such that N.C. Wyeth began to resent her. [12] She played an important role managing his career. She was once quoted as saying, "I am a director and I had the greatest actor in the world." [7] Their first child, Nicholas, was born in 1943, followed by James ("Jamie") three years later. Wyeth painted portraits of both children (Nicholas of his older son and Faraway of his younger son).

His son Jamie Wyeth followed his father's and grandfather's footsteps, becoming the third generation of Wyeth artists. Andrew would be the role model and teacher to his son Jamie that his father, N.C., had been to him. [7] [13] The artistic history is told in James H. Duff's An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art. [13] Betsy Wyeth died in April 2020, aged 98. [12]


On January 16, 2009, Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, after a brief illness. He was 91 years old. [14]


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 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." [3] He did some book illustrations in his early career, but not to the extent that N.C. Wyeth did. [7]

Wyeth was a visual artist, primarily classified as a realist painter, like Winslow Homer or Thomas Eakins. In a Life magazine article in 1965, Wyeth said that although he was thought of as a realist, he thought of himself as an abstractionist: "My people, my objects breathe in a different way: there's another core—an excitement that's definitely abstract. My God, when you really begin to peer into something, a simple object, and realize the profound meaning of that thing—if you have an emotion about it, there's no end." [10]

Winter 1946, Painted in tempera, 1946. Andrew Wyeth Winter 1946.png
Winter 1946, Painted in tempera, 1946.

He worked predominantly in a regionalist style. [15] 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. [7] [16]

Dividing his time between Pennsylvania and Maine, Wyeth maintained a realist painting style for over seventy years. He gravitated to several identifiable landscape subjects and models. 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. [2] [7] [10]

Christina Olson and the Olson Farm

It was at the Olson farm in Cushing, Maine, that he painted Christina's World (1948). Perhaps his best known work, it depicts his neighbor, Christina Olson, sprawled on a dry field facing her house in the distance. Wyeth was inspired by Christina, who, crippled from (undiagnosed) Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, a genetic polyneuropathy, and unable to walk, spent most of her time at home. [17] [18] [5] [19] [20] [21]

The Olson house has been preserved and renovated to match its appearance in Christina's World. It is open to the public as a part of the Farnsworth Art Museum. [11] After being introduced to the Olsons by Betsy James, Wyeth built a friendship with the siblings and was soon allowed full roam of the farm and house where he did a number of works and studies of the Olson House and property. [22] Wyeth created nearly 300 drawings, watercolors and tempera paintings at Olson's from 1937 to the late 1960s. Examples of such works are Olson House (1939) and Wind from the Sea (1947).

Because of Wyeth's profile, the property was designated a National Historic Landmark in June 2011. [23]

Kuerner Farm

In the early 1930s, Wyeth began painting Anna and Karl Kuerner, his neighbors in Chadds Ford. Like the Olsons, the Kuerners and their farm were one of Wyeth's most important subjects for nearly 50 years. As a teenager, Wyeth would walk the hills of the Kuerner Farm. Soon, he became close friends with Karl and Anna. Eventually, they invited Wyeth into their house. Inside, Wyeth documented the Kuerners, their home, and their life.

Wyeth stated about the Kuerner Farm, "I didn't think it a picturesque place. It just excited me, purely abstractly and purely emotionally." [24]

The Kuerner Farm is available to tour through the Brandywine River Museum, as is the nearby N. C. Wyeth House and Studio; [25] in 2011, the farm was declared a National Historic Landmark, based on its association with Wyeth. [26]

Helga paintings

Braids (1979), portrait of Helga Testorf Andrew Wyeth Braids 1979.jpg
Braids (1979), portrait of Helga Testorf

In 1986, extensive coverage was given to the revelation of a series of 247 studies of the German-born Helga Testorf, whom Wyeth met while she was attending to Karl Kuerner at his farm. Wyeth painted her over the period 1971–85 without the knowledge of either his wife or Helga's husband, John Testorf. Helga, a caregiver with nursing experience, had never modeled before but quickly became comfortable with the long periods of posing, during which he observed and painted her in intimate detail. The Helga pictures are not an obvious psychological study of the subject, but more an extensive study of her physical landscape set within Wyeth's customary landscapes. She is nearly always portrayed as unsmiling and passive; yet, within those deliberate limitations, Wyeth manages to convey subtle qualities of character and mood, as he does in many of his best portraits. This extensive study of one subject in differing contexts and emotional states is unique in American art. [27]

In 1986, Philadelphia publisher and millionaire Leonard E.B. Andrews (1925–2009) purchased almost the entire collection, preserving it intact. Wyeth had already given a few Helga paintings to friends, including the famous Lovers, which had been given as a gift to Wyeth's wife. [28] [29] The works were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in 1987 and in a nationwide tour. [30] There was extensive criticism of both the 1987 exhibition and the subsequent tour. [29] The show was "lambasted" as an "absurd error" by John Russell and an "essentially tasteless endeavor" by Jack Flam, coming to be viewed by some people as "a traumatic event for the museum." [29] The curator, Neil Harris, labeled the show "the most polarizing National Gallery exhibition of the late 1980s," himself admitting concern over "the voyeuristic aura of the Helga exhibition." [31]

The tour was criticized after the fact because, after it ended, the pictures' owner sold his entire cache to a Japanese company, a transaction characterized by Christopher Benfey as "crass." [29]

In a 2007 interview, when Wyeth was asked if Helga was going to be present at his 90th birthday party, he said "Yeah, certainly. Oh, absolutely," and went on to say, "She's part of the family now. I know it shocks everyone. That's what I love about it. It really shocks 'em." [32]

Other main works

Critical reaction

Wyeth's art has long been controversial. He developed technically beautiful works, had a large following and accrued a considerable fortune as a result. Yet critics, curators and historians have offered conflicting views about the importance of his work. Art historian Robert Rosenblum was asked in 1977 to identify the "most overrated and underrated" artists of the 20th century. He provided one name for both categories: Andrew Wyeth. [39]

Admirers of Wyeth's art believe that his 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 medium of egg tempera (which uses egg yolk as its medium) and watercolor. Wyeth avoided using oil paints. His use of light and shadow lets the subjects illuminate the canvas. His paintings and titles suggest sound, as is implied in many paintings, including Distant Thunder (1961) and Spring Fed (1967). [40] Christina's World became an iconic image, a status unmet to even the best paintings, "that registers as an emotional and cultural reference point in the minds of millions." [39]

Wyeth created work in sharp contrast to abstraction, which gained currency in American art and critical thinking in the middle of the 20th century. [39]

Museum exhibitions of Wyeth's 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 paintings as "Formulaic stuff, not very effective even as illustrational 'realism'." [41] Some found Wyeth's art of rural subject matter tired and oversweet. [39]

N.C. advised Wyeth to work from one's own perspective and imagination; to work for "effect" means the artist is not fully exploring their artistic abilities and, as a result, the artist will not realize their potential. [8]

Museum collections

Wyeth's work is held in the following permanent collections:

Honors and awards

Wyeth (right) receiving the National Medal of Arts from George W. Bush in 2007. Andrew Wyeth-George W Bush.jpg
Wyeth (right) receiving the National Medal of Arts from George W. Bush in 2007.

Wyeth was the recipient of numerous honors and awards:

He also received numerous honorary degrees. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

N. C. Wyeth American illustrator, painter

Newell Convers Wyeth, known as N. C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator. He was the pupil of artist Howard Pyle and became one of America's greatest illustrators. During his lifetime, Wyeth created more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, 25 of them for Scribner's, the Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best known. The first of these, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter at a time when the camera and photography began to compete with his craft. Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly. Wyeth, who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and said in 1908, "Painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other."

Chadds Ford Township, Delaware County, Pennsylvania Township in Pennsylvania, United States

Chadds Ford Township is a township in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It is located about 25 miles (40 km) southwest of Philadelphia. Prior to 1996, Chadds Ford Township was known as Birmingham Township; the name was changed to allow the township to correspond to both its census-designated place and to distinguish itself from the adjacent Birmingham Township in Chester County. As of the 2010 census, Chadds Ford Township had a population of 3,640, up from 3,170 at the 2000 census.

James Browning Wyeth is a contemporary American realist painter, son of Andrew Wyeth, and grandson of N.C. Wyeth. He was raised in Chadds Ford Township, Pennsylvania, and is artistic heir to the Brandywine School tradition - painters who worked in the rural Brandywine River area of Delaware and Pennsylvania, portraying its people, animals, and landscape.

<i>Christinas World</i> Painting by Andrew Wyeth

Christina's World is a 1948 painting by American painter Andrew Wyeth and one of the best-known American paintings of the middle 20th century. It is a tempera work done in a realist style, depicting a woman semi-reclining on the ground in a treeless, mostly tawny field, looking up at a gray house on the horizon; a barn and various other small outbuildings are adjacent to the house. It is owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of its permanent collection.

Brandywine River Museum American art museum

The Brandywine River Museum is a museum of regional and American art located on U.S. Route 1 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania on the banks of the Brandywine Creek. The museum showcases the art of Andrew Wyeth, a major American realist painter, and his family: his father N.C. Wyeth, illustrator of many children’s classics, and his son Jamie Wyeth, a contemporary American realist painter.

The Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, United States, is an art museum that specializes in American art. Its permanent collection includes works by such artists as Gilbert Stuart, Thomas Sully, Thomas Eakins, Eastman Johnson, Fitz Henry Lane, Frank Benson, Childe Hassam, and Maurice Prendergast, as well as a significant collection of works by the 20th-century sculptor Louise Nevelson. Four galleries are devoted to contemporary art.

Tom Bostelle (1925–2005) was an American painter and sculptor.

N. C. Wyeth House and Studio United States historic place

The N. C. Wyeth House and Studio is a historic house museum and artist's studio on Murphy Road in Chadds Ford Township, Pennsylvania, United States. Beginning with its construction in 1911, it served as the principal home and studio of artist N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945). It was restored to its original appearance around the time of his death. The property is managed by the Brandywine River Museum, which offers tours. It was designated a National Historic Landmark District in 1997.

Tenants Harbor Light lighthouse in Maine, United States

Tenants Harbor Light, also known as Southern Island Light, is a lighthouse at the mouth of Tenants Harbor, St. George, Maine, United States. It appears in paintings by Andrew Wyeth and his son Jamie Wyeth, who have owned the lighthouse since 1978.

John W. McCoy (1910–1989) was an American artist who painted landscapes, portraits, and still lifes. He was married to Ann Wyeth, daughter of N.C. Wyeth and sister of Andrew Wyeth, all artists.

<i>The Helga Pictures</i>

The Helga Pictures are a series of more than 240 paintings and drawings of German model Helga Testorf created by Andrew Wyeth (1917–2009) between 1971 and 1985.

George Alexis Weymouth, better known as Frolic Weymouth, was an American artist, whip or stager, and conservationist. He served on the United States Commission of Fine Arts in the 1970s and was a member of the Du Pont family.

Carolyn Wyeth, daughter of N.C. Wyeth and sister of Andrew Wyeth, was a well-known artist in her own right. Her hometown was Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. She worked and taught out of N. C. Wyeth House and Studio. Her nephew, Jamie Wyeth was one of her students.

Kuerner Farm United States historic place

Kuerner Farm, also known as Ring Farm, is a historic farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, notable for its association with artist Andrew Wyeth, who created about one-third of his work, over 1,000 paintings and drawings, on subjects he found there over a span of 77 years. The farm was listed in the National Register of Historic Places and declared a National Historic Landmark in 2011. The property abuts the Brandywine Battlefield, another National Historic Landmark. The farm is open to public tours, operated by the Brandywine River Museum.

<i>Winter Fields</i> (painting) painting by Andrew Wyeth

Winter Fields is a 1942 painting by the American artist Andrew Wyeth. It depicts a dead, frozen crow in a landscape with fields and distant farm buildings.

<i>Winter 1946</i> painting by Andrew Wyeth

Winter 1946 is a 1946 painting by the American artist Andrew Wyeth. It depicts a boy running down a hill in the winter.

<i>Wind from the Sea</i> painting by Andrew Wyeth

Wind from the Sea is a 1947 painting by the American artist Andrew Wyeth. It depicts an inside view of an open attic window as the wind blows the thin and tattered curtains into the room.

<i>Reception to Washington on April 21, 1789, at Trenton on his way to New York to Assume the Duties of the Presidency of the United States</i> painting by N. C. Wyeth

Reception to Washington on April 21, 1789, at Trenton on his way to New York to Assume the Duties of the Presidency of the United States is a large-scale oil painting completed in 1930 by American artist N. C. Wyeth of president-elect George Washington at his reception in Trenton, New Jersey during his journey to the 1789 inauguration in New York City. The mural was commissioned by the First Mechanics National Bank of Trenton, now part of Wells Fargo. It has been on display in the lobby of Thomas Edison State University since 2013. Wells Fargo donated the painting to the university in 2019, the most expensive gift ever given to the university.

American composer, pianist and painter Ann Wyeth McCoy was the youngest daughter of artist-illustrator N.C. Wyeth and the fourth of his five children. She was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Ann had a life-long interest in antique porcelain dolls, which began in 1923 when she received her first doll as a gift from her parents on her eighth birthday. Each subsequent birthday and Christmas during her childhood, she received another doll. From 1972 to 2004 her doll collection was exhibited at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford during the Christmas holidays.Ann studied piano with William Hatton Greene, composition with Harl McDonald at the University of Pennsylvania, and painting with her father. In 1934, her composition Christmas Fantasy, was performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Leopold Stokowski conducting. In 1935, Ann married John W. McCoy II, a young artist whom she had met when he studied with her father at the Chadds Ford studio. They had three children, John Denys, Anna Brelsford, and Maude Robin.Ann did not begin painting seriously until her children grew up. She worked mainly with watercolors. The first formal exhibition of her work was in the late 1960s. The Brandywine River Museum has an Ann Wyeth McCoy collection, which contains correspondence, photographs, musical compositions, sound recordings, and her early drawings. The collection also details her interest in antique porcelain dolls.

<i>Maidenhair</i> (Wyeth Painting)

Maidenhair is a 1974 painting by the American artist Andrew Wyeth. It depicts a young bride-to-be sitting alone in the Old German Meeting House in Waldoboro, Maine.


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Further reading