Andrew Newell Wyeth (surname pronounced /ˈwaɪ.ɛθ/; 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 US 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 painting, Christina’s World, currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 1986, extensive coverage was given to the revelation of a series of 247 studies of Wyeth’s neighbor, the Prussian-born Helga Testorf. Wyeth painted her over the period 1971–85 without the knowledge of either Wyeth’s wife or John Testorf, Helga’s husband. The paintings were stored at the home of his student, neighbor and good friend, Frolic Weymouth. Helga is a musician, baker, caregiver, and friend of the Wyeths. She met Wyeth when she was attending to Karl Kuerner. She 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 …
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For the First Time: Andrew Wyeth, In His Own Words, On the Famous Helga Paintings – Just Published – “Wyeth on Helga”
Naples, FL (PRWEB) April 28, 2006
Andrew Wyeth finally breaks his silence – talking at length about his famous Helga paintings in an exclusive interview with Thomas Hoving, art scholar and former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The interview is being published in a new monograph, “Wyeth on Helga,” available now from the Naples Museum of Art.
Since they were first shown at Washington’s National Gallery of Art two decades ago, “The Helga Pictures” have been the subject of considerable interest, debate and gossip. But Wyeth himself has never talked at length on the subject – with one exception. In 2002, Wyeth sat down with Thomas Hoving and discussed the origins and evolution of the Helga series. In the spring of 2006, Hoving agreed to allow the Naples Museum of Art to publish this interview for the first time, as a companion to the exhibition “Andrew Wyeth & Family.”
Secretly created over a 15-year period, the 240 works that make up “The Helga Pictures” provide an intimate, unprecedented look at a major American artist exploring a single subject, Wyeth’s Pennsylvania neighbor Helga Testorf.
In this candid interview, Wyeth reveals how he met Helga, how the series – and his relationship with Helga – grew and the fact that he never intended to show these works publicly. “My intention was to keep ’em hidden away until I died,” he says. “Then they could be revealed.”
“Wyeth on Helga” is an important addition to the literature on Andrew Wyeth and to the literature on American art.
For more information about this historic, limited-edition monograph, please call Myra Janco Daniels at (239) 597-1111.
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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.
Andrew Wyeth, one of the most famous U.S. artists of the 20th century, and even perhaps in history, found inspiration in daily life. As his popularity grew, so did the debates surrounding him and his art. A master of realism, he has been called “America’s best known and best loved artist”, as well as a commercially-viable mongrel. Wyeth watercolors turned ordinary moments in life, which many thought to be bleak and boring, into celebrated works of art. Today, many Andrew Wyeth watercolor prints are sold over the web at varying prices, in different sizes, and presented on many distinctive surfaces.
An Early Beginning
Andrew Wyeth began studying art at a very young age. His father, the illustrator Newell Convers Wyeth, recognized his son’s talent and fascination for art, and took interest in teaching him. While Andrew was learning the discipline and basics of traditional drawing, he discovered his passion for watercolors and began to experiment with them. His early paintings often included rocky landscapes and the sea.
Although Andrew learned the art of painting from his father, his pieces were very different from his father’s. While N.C. Wyeth used a full array of colors, and often painted lively figures, Andrew was more reserved in his art. He chose mostly to work with warm, earthy tones, and created somber figures and landscapes. The difference between the two artists becomes quite apparent when examining one Wyeth watercolor against another. See Andrew Wyeth’s biography here.
Famous Andrew Wyeth Watercolors
A well-known Andrew Wyeth watercolor entitled “Christina’s World“, is considered by many to be a rare representation of mid-20th century America. Created in 1948, the realist-style painting was inspired by Christina Olson, a neighbor suffering from a muscular deterioration that left the entire lower half of her body paralyzed. From his window, Andrew witnessed her crawling across a field on the Olson farm and was motivated to capture and immortalize the image. However, Andrew used his wife as a model for the painting.
Other famous Andrew Wyeth watercolors include: Bradford House, Wind from the Sea, Late Fall, Easterly, and the Helga Collection. Although (and perhaps because) the Helga Collection initiated a huge amount of criticism and controversy, the watercolor paintings of Andrew’s neighbor Helga Testorf remain some of his most widely-recognizable paintings in the art world today.
The Watercolor World of Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth has been an American icon in the art world since the mid 1930’s, when he had his first watercolor exhibition and completely sold out his paintings. His fans consider his art a remarkable display of beauty, with strong emotional vibes and symbolic content. Nevertheless, many art critics judge Wyeth watercolors to be ineffective, conventional, and lacking sentiment.
Many Andrew Wyeth watercolors are typical portrayals of the vastness of the American landscape, often focusing on familiar subjects such as the neighbors and the community. Andrew’s work also reflected the harsh life experienced across the U.S. during the depression and post-war eras, which in part, attributed to his popularity and success.
Wyeth watercolors display a limited use of hues and a muted palette, bringing attention to the “dull” aspects of life. He favored fall and winter scenes, which allowed him the opportunity to use earthy colors sometimes paired with a surprise splash of red or deep green to capture the viewer’s eye.
Andrew Wyeth’s Versatility
Aside from watercolor, Andrew Wyeth was also skilled in the use of egg tempera, which was introduced to him by his brother in law. Egg tempera is a media which combines powdered pigment with water and egg yolk to make a very unique texture and color distribution. Many times, he used the two together to create a one-of-a kind painting. The combination not only significantly added to the realism of his paintings, but also rendered them distinctive from those of other artists.
Whether you love or hate the Andrew Wyeth watercolors, there is no denying the artist’s unique skill and firm grasp of realism.
Dan Woods is a modern artist and is the owner of the website Andrew Wyeth Prints.
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