I should start out by admitting that, although I really like some of his work, Andrew Wyeth is not one of my favorites. Partly it’s because I find much of his work cold, not in the sense of his frequent depiction of winter scenes, which I like, but in the lack of warmth that I feel from him for his subjects. Mostly, though, it’s because his family heritage invites unfair and unflattering comparisons with his father, Newell Convers Wyeth, who left some mighty large footsteps to fill. (N.C. Wyeth is my favorite illustrator and one of my favorite artists in any genre. More on N.C. in a later post.)
That being said, I still do enjoy the work of the “middle Wyeth” (his son Jamie is also a noted painter), particularly when his unusual compositions and strange silent spaces creep toward the surreal, as in “Christina’s World” and “Distant Thunder”. I like some of his drawings and watercolors very much, particularly those that are direct observations of trees, fields and other landscape elements.
I’m less fond of his figurative work, like the famous “Helga” drawings. I stumbled across that exhibition by accident at the National Gallery back in the late 80’s when it was getting a lot of press (largely because of talk of an affair between Wyeth and the model). I wasn’t paying much attention, and was at the NGA for an exhibit of Italian Master Drawings, and chanced on the “Helga” gallery. Coming on the drawings unexpectedly may have given me an unusual prespective. I came away feeling that, if I hadn’t known the famous name they were associated with, I might have thought them the work of a promising but unexceptional art student.
Wyeth’s landscape drawings are another matter. They carry with them the feeling of the artist quietly and single-mindedly taking in his subject, and letting nature flow through his eye almost directly to the paper, without interference from an imposed “style” or other mental baggage. This is the Andrew Wyeth that I can connect with. His landscape drawings also carry with them the familiar look (to me, at least) of the Brandywine valley and its gently rolling hills.
This is certainly Andrew Wyeth time here in the Brandywine Valley/Philadelphia area. No fewer than thee (count em’, three) exhibitions of his work are opening here in the next two weeks.
The PMA exhibition is being held simultaneously with an exhibit of Wyeth’s drawings at the Brandywine River Museum, Andrew Wyeth: Master Drawings from the Artist’s Collection, that opens today and also ends on July 16.
The Brandywine museum is in the middle of Wyeth country in Chadds Ford, PA. just a ways downstream from Kuerner’s Farm where Andrew has worked, alternating with a house in Maine in the summer, for most of his life. By all accounts he still works there almost every day, even at the age of 88.
Not to be left out, the other bastion of Wyethism in the area, The Delaware Art Museum, has mounted an exhibit of his early works, “Something Waits Beneath It” – Early Work by Andrew Wyeth, 1939- 1969 , which runs from March 29 to July 16, same as the PMA.
None of the museums have posted much of Wyeth’s art on their sites and there isn’t any single great repository of his work on the web that I know of, so I’ll give you a list of smaller resources:
- The official Andrew Wyeth site is written and maintained by the artist’s wife, Betsy James Wyeth. Unfortunately, there are not many images on the site.
- You’ll find more AW works on the awyeth.com site of Frank Fowler, his art rep.
- AW at The National Gallery – 4 images
- AW at Art Renewal Center – 4 images
- “Winter” at the Athenaeum – 1 image
- AW at CGFA (ad warning) – 5 images
- AW at The Artchive (popup ad warning) – 6 images
I also don’t know of any books specifically of Andrew’s drawings, other than the catalog published by the Brandywine Museum to accompany the current exhibit. I can recommend an excellent book, however, that gives an overview of the three Wyeths, N.C., Andrew and Jamie, with lots of great images by all three: An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, James Wyeth by James H. Duff.
Of the three exhibits, the drawings are (if you’ll excuse the expression) the main draw for me, so I’ll be visiting the Brandywine Museum first, and take in the others later. The Brandywine has some additional plusses. There is an exhibit of Dorothy Lathrop’s illustrations opening at the same time, and the truely great Wyeths (sorry, I’m showing my bias again), N.C. Wyeth’s astonishingly powerful illustrations, are almost always on view.
Charley’s Brandywine Valley Art Expedition Travel Tips:
If you visit the Brandywine River Museum, you may want to stop for lunch at Hank’s Place, the local lunch counter and meeting place, just north of the Museum on the corner of Rts 1 and 100. You might also want to drop by the nearby Chadds Ford Winery, and taste some of their Spring Wine.
If it’s past March 29 and the other exhibitions are open, you can meander down winding Rt 100 through the beautiful Brandywine Valley, (without knowing it, you’ll pass near Jamie Wyeth’s estate), and into Wilmington for a visit to the Delaware Art Museum, another jewel of a small museum, to take in their Wyeth show.
If you stay at the DAM till dinner time, drive from the museum toward downtown Wilmington on Delaware Avenue, and you’ll find good restaurants in the nearby Trolley Square area at DuPont St.: Toscana for upscale Italian, The Del Rose Cafe (1707 Delaware Ave.) for neighborhood style pasta, and Kelly’s for pub grub. To meet up with 95, Continue on into Wilmington’s center on Delaware or Pennsylvania Avenue (without knowing it, you’ll pass near Howard Pyle’s studio).
If you’re really a glutton for Wyeth, and start early, you can take in all three shows in one day. The Philadelphia Museum of Art (a world-class art museum worthy of extended visits) is only about 45 minutes away from Wilmington up 95. If you can go on a day with nice weather, all three museums are in beautiful settings.
Wyeth? Wyeth not?