Andrew Wyeth – Famous American Artist

Article by George Baxter

Born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania in 1917, Andrew Newell Wyeth is famous as a realist painter and portrait artist of the 20th century. He is the son of the famous artist and illustrator Newell Convers Wyeth, and the youngest in the seven member family. His eldest daughter Henriette Wyeth Hurd is also an artist.

Due to his physical weakness in childhood, Andrew’s parents decided to teach him at home and gave him tuition on every subject including art. Andrew showed his passion for painting portraits on canvas and drawing at an early age and his artistic skills were nourished by his father N.C. Wyeth through proper guidance. Andrew mastered figure study and creation of portraits in watercolour and also learned egg tempera from his brother-in-law Peter Hurd.

Wyeth’s career was launched in 1937, with his solo exhibition at Macbeth Gallery in New York. The exhibition was a success and all his canvases found takers.

In 1940, he married Besty James and had two sons Nicholas and James, both of whom later became associated with arts. His father’s accidental death in 1945 was an emotional event in his life which influenced his career in a big way. It was after his father’s death that Andrew’s art saw a more mature style with more realistic renderings on canvas and more symbolic objects incorporated in drawings.

Andrew’s style involves experimenting subjects in pencil or loosely brushed watercolour before being executed to finished painting on the canvas. Being a realist portraitist, his favourite subjects include the land and inhabitants of his hometown Chadds Ford. Andrew’s neighbours Anna and Karl Kuerner influenced him so much that both of them along with Kuerner’s farm remained one of his most important portrait subjects for years. ‘Christina’s World’ is one of Wyeth’s famous paintings portraying crippled Christina Olsen hankering for her home.

Andrew’s first solo museum exhibition was in 1951 at Farnsworth Art Museum. Today, his collection of portraits can be seen in almost all major American museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. A large collection of his art can also be found in Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland.

As a portraitist, Andrew Wyeth received a number of honours and awards which include the 2007 National Medal of Arts. The first recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy in 1963, Wyeth was also the first American artist to be elected to the Royal Academy of Britain. In 1987 he received a D.F.A. from Bates College. In 1988, Wyeth was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, which is the highest civilian honour given by the United States legislature.

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About the Author

George Baxter is a retired art teacher who takes great interest in learning and teaching traditional art skills and techniques specifically in relation to oil painting, abstract art and fine arts.

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