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Artists Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth Photo

Andrew Wyeth

American Painter

Movements and Styles: American Regionalism, Realism, Magic Realism

Born: July 12, 1917 - Chadds Ford, PA

Died: January 16, 2009 - Chadds Ford, PA

Andrew Wyeth Timeline

Quotes

"I paint my life."
Andrew Wyeth
"I like to think that I'm so far behind that I'm ahead."
Andrew Wyeth
"Art to me, is seeing. I think you have got to use your eyes, as well as your emotion, and one without the other just doesn't work. That's my art."
Andrew Wyeth
"Artists today think of everything they do as a work of art. It is important to forget about what you are doing - then a work of art may happen."
Andrew Wyeth
"I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don't talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died."
Andrew Wyeth
"The most irritating experience for an artist is to have his work criticized before it is finished."
Andrew Wyeth
"To have all your life's work and to have them along the wall, it's like walking in with no clothes on. It's terrible."
Andrew Wyeth
"One's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes."
Andrew Wyeth
"I don't think that there is anything that is really magical unless it has a terrifying quality."
Andrew Wyeth
"I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape - the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it, the whole story doesn't show."
Andrew Wyeth
"I dream a lot. I do more painting when I'm not painting. It's in the subconscious."
Andrew Wyeth

"I think one's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes. I see no reason for painting but that. If I have anything to offer, it is my emotional contact with the place where I live and the people I do."

Andrew Wyeth Signature

Synopsis

Andrew Wyeth, one of America's best-known Realist painters of the 20th century, created canvases imbued with the mysteriousness of the real world, thus challenging traditional notions of reality. Wyeth rendered scenes of his everyday life in rural Pennsylvania and Maine, landscapes, and portraits with exacting detail, working primarily in watercolor and tempera instead of the more typical oil or acrylic. While famous for his realist depictions, Wyeth's compositions often carry a sense of the uncanny, which led some critics to call him a Magic Realist. While much beloved by a popular audience and, for a time, the critical establishment, Wyeth's reputation declined in the 1960s, as some felt his paintings did not keep up with the times and were not relevant to a contemporary culture that was experiencing various upheavals. Wyeth refused to change his style and continued painting the rural life he had always known. Later still, Wyeth became an American legend, and a touchstone for younger painters who have returned to realism to probe various issues confronting today's society.

Key Ideas

Wyeth's Realism, with its meticulous attention to detail, was not purely documentary. In particular, his compositions often employed skewed vantage points and perspectives, making his subjects seem a little uncanny, or strange. The strange perspective coupled with painstakingly controlled brushstrokes, which are the opposite of expressionistic, create a type of Realism that some critics referred to as Magic Realism. Wyeth's Magic Realism does not traffic in fantastical subjects but instead reveals the material world to be permeated with mystery and uncertainty.
Wyeth's preferred media - watercolor and egg tempera - were unusual choices for a modern artist, but his innovative use of a dry brush technique in both media allowed him to build up complex surfaces on the canvas that he likened to weaving. These "woven" surfaces create the effect of a stillness, an almost surreal atmosphere, for his subjects.
Despite living a rather rural and secluded life in Pennsylvania and Maine, Wyeth kept tabs on the contemporary art world, and while some critics dismissed his work as a sentimental depiction of rural life, many of Wyeth's paintings could be considered quite radical in their exploration of the innate sexuality of his subjects, including the young Siri Erickson, the older Helga Testorf, and even his young neighbor Eric Standard, all of whom he painted unabashedly nude.

Biography

Andrew Wyeth Photo

Childhood

Andrew Newell Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917, in rural Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest son of Caroline Borkius Wyeth and the renowned artist and illustrator N.C. Wyeth. Continuing in the creative footsteps of their father, four of the five Wyeth children became artists. As a young child, Wyeth was prone to illness, and he contracted whooping cough. Concerned for his fragile health, his parents decided to school him at home. When Wyeth was three, the family began spending summers in Maine, where they enjoyed nature and relished the intellectual and social stimulation of their visiting guests. Exhibiting artistic promise at an early age, Andrew learned to draw before he could read, and eventually he assisted in creating his father's illustrations.

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Andrew Wyeth Biography Continues

Important Art by Andrew Wyeth

The below artworks are the most important by Andrew Wyeth - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Andrew Wyeth, Winter Fields (1942)
Artwork Images

Andrew Wyeth, Winter Fields (1942)

Artwork description & Analysis: Wyeth presents the viewer with a dead crow, stiffened from rigor mortis and frozen in the wintery landscape. The viewer doesn't look down on the crow but instead sees it as if his or her face were pressed to the ground, not far from the creature. The fields surrounding Wyeth's neighbor's house extend well into the distance, and a farm house and trees dot the horizon. The perspectival effect accords the small animal an outsized prominence to its setting, thus suggesting the gravity and importance of its death.

Having come across the dead bird during a walk, Wyeth brought the crow back to his studio to study and paint it, so multiple sketches for this painting exist. Wyeth remembered, "This crow in one of Karl's fields symbolized the nature and intimacy of the Pennsylvania landscape. The blue-black of the feathers helped me break free of 'Impressionism.'" The exquisite details that Wyeth was able to capture with tempera paint, an unusual choice of medium in modern times, underscore the degree to which Wyeth broke from the then contemporary trends of abstraction.

Painted in the midst of World War II, some have drawn parallels between the painting and the photographs of the dead and wounded in the battlefields of Europe. Additionally, Wyeth was fascinated with American movies, particularly early, silent war films made after World War I and was inspired by the filmic framing of battle scenes. Wyeth, though, insisted his work had nothing to do with photography, and upon closer inspection one sees that the objects in the farthest background are painted as delicately and intricately as the crow. In doing so, Wyeth creates a depiction of space that neither humans or cameras could capture. From an early date, Wyeth's realism always aimed to capture, in his words "what lurks close down at the surface."

Tempera on composition board - Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Winter 1946 (1946)
Artwork Images

Winter 1946 (1946)

Artwork description & Analysis: In Winter 1946, we see a young man running fast and recklessly down a hill. The muted colors evoke a cold winter scene, with a sliver of unmelted snow in the upper left of the composition. Bundled in warm clothing, the viewer is left wondering who this boy is and his destination.

Wyeth created this painting after the horrific death of his father N.C. It was on Kuerner's Hill in Chadds Ford that his father was hit by a passing train. The engine stalled in N.C.'s car, and he and his young grandson were not able to move nor get the conductor to stop in time. His neighbor Karl Kuerner became a surrogate father figure to the artist, and the farm and the hill became a major source of inspiration for Wyeth's paintings over the next thirty years.

Given the biographical context, one can now imagine the young man as Wyeth himself, running aimlessly and distractedly while trying to make sense of his father's death. Wyeth later said he lamented the fact that he was never able to paint a portrait of his father but that "the hill finally became a portrait of him."

Tempera on board - North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, NC

Christina's World (1948)
Artwork Images

Christina's World (1948)

Artwork description & Analysis: With her back to the viewer, Wyeth's subject Anna Christina Olson stares into the distance, looking out at her farmhouse in Cushing, Maine. Suffering from a degenerative muscular disease, Christina was unable to walk. Wyeth said that she was "limited physically but by no means spiritually" and that "the challenge was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless." Her gaunt arms and legs and her slight frame make the figure seem vulnerable and isolated in the expansive field, and the viewer is put in an ambiguous position, looking at her from behind. The scene contains a sense of vulnerability, contributing to a certain forboding feeling.

To say this is a true portrait of Christina Olson, though, would be misleading. While the pink dress and slim limbs belong to the then 55-year-old Olson, Wyeth used his young wife Betsy as the actual model here, thus fusing Christina's aging and abnormal body with that of a healthy, young one. Even though Wyeth wanted to depict Olson's plight, it can be interpreted that Wyeth made the subject an "Everywoman".

Christina's World presents an intriguing, open-ended narrative that appeals to the imagination. Who is Christina? Why is she in a field? Is that her house? Why does she seem to be crawling? While a seemingly straightforward painting, Christina's World is, in fact, characteristic of Wyeth's version of Magic Realism, which is not fantastical or overtly surrealistic but more subtle and unsettling in its hyper-realism. As one curator explained, Wyeth's paintings "are filled with hidden metaphors that explore common themes of memory, nostalgia and loss." And the artist himself said, "Magic! It's what makes things sublime. It's the difference between a picture that is profound art and just a painting of an object."

The profundity that Wyeth was able to capture in this painting makes it one of the most well-known and admired pieces that Wyeth ever produced; however, it was not his personal favorite. Wyeth felt that the painting would have been more successful without the figure in the field. He remarked to an interviewer, "When I was painting Christina's World 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. I remember going down into the field and grabbing up a section of earth and setting it on the base of my easel. It wasn't a painting I was working on. I was actually working on the ground itself."

Tempera on panel - Museum of Modern Art, New York

More Andrew Wyeth Artwork and Analysis:



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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Andrew Wyeth
Interactive chart with Andrew Wyeth's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Albrecht DürerAlbrecht Dürer
Thomas EakinsThomas Eakins
Winslow HomerWinslow Homer
N.C. Wyeth

Personal Contacts

Elaine de KooningElaine de Kooning
Alfred H. Barr, Jr.Alfred H. Barr, Jr.
Edward HopperEdward Hopper

Movements

RealismRealism
American RegionalismAmerican Regionalism
Magic RealismMagic Realism

Influences on Artist
Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth
Years Worked: 1932 - 2009
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Peter DoigPeter Doig
Jack Vettriano

Personal Contacts

Lois DoddLois Dodd
James WellingJames Welling
Peter DoigPeter Doig
Julie Bozzi
Jamie Wyeth

Movements

Contemporary RealismContemporary Realism
Magic RealismMagic Realism

Useful Resources on Andrew Wyeth

Videos

Books

Websites

Articles

BBC Michael Palin in Wyeth's World ► 58:52 BBC Michael Palin in Wyeth's World


341k views

Framing The <i>Christina's World</i> Canvas ► 3:11 Framing The Christina's World Canvas

The Museum of Modern Art video on framing the famous work
62k views

Andrew Wyeth Home ► 3:24 Andrew Wyeth Home

House and studio of Wyeth
16k views

More Interesting Videos with Andrew Wyeth
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life Recomended resource

By Richard Meryman

Andrew Wyeth: People and Places

By Karen Baumgartner and Thomas Padon

Wyeth at Kuerners Recomended resource

By Betsy James Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth Recomended resource

By Richard Meryman

More Interesting Books about Andrew Wyeth
The Wyeth Foundation For American Art Recomended resource

Chadds Ford Art Gallery

The Gallery has been tied to the Wyeth family and sells reproductions of his work

Unclothed in Andrew Wyeth's Art Recomended resource

By Ted Loos
The New York Times
June 16, 2017

Wyeth's World Recomended resource

By Henry Adams
Smithsonian Magazine
June 2006

Brandywine explores Andrew Wyeth's oft-overlooked role as chronicler of black life in Chadds Ford Recomended resource

By Stephen Salisbury
Philly.com
June 26, 2017

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009: An Unmistakable Figure on the Barren Landscape

By Henry Allen and Bart Barnes
Washington Post
January 17, 2009

More Interesting Articles about Andrew Wyeth

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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
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Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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