Friday, January 16, 2009

American artist Andrew Wyeth dies age 91

Andrew Wyeth: Memory & Magic
(Trodden Weed by Andrew Wyeth, 1951)

Andrew Wyeth died today at his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania - the place where was born 91 years ago. For many people - largely those who prefer realism to abstraction - he had been America's greatest living artist.

When in Maine in 2006, I made a point of travelling to Rockland, Maine in order to visit the Farnsworth Art Museum and the Wyeth Centre where I saw a number of Wyeth's work in Egg Tempera and watercolour - all of which were very impressive. I've always been entranced by his draughtsmanship. I recommend you try and see his work if you ever get a chance.

This is a note of the speech given at the presentation of the National Medal of Arts to Wyeth in 2007.
The paintings of Andrew Wyeth have been etched in the American national consciousness for more than a half a century. While many of Wyeth's landscapes and interior views of rural Pennsylvania and Maine are recognizable settings, his work portrays an inner life that is elusive and enigmatic.

The youngest of five children, Andrew Newell Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania in the Brandywine Valley near Philadelphia. He was educated at home with his father, noted illustrator N.C. Wyeth, providing art lessons. When he was only 20 years old, he had his first solo exhibition at Macbeth Gallery in New York City. The rapid and complete sale of the exhibition inventory was an indication of his enormous popularity with the American public in the years to come.

In 1939, Wyeth met Betsy James whose family had a summer place not far from the Wyeths in Cushing, Maine. She was 17 years old, Wyeth was 20, and after a week he proposed. They were married the following spring and have remained married for 68 years. Over those years, Betsy has been her husband's protector as well as artistic guide.

In October 1945, Wyeth's father and his three-year old nephew Newell were killed in a car accident. He has referred to this tragedy as not only of deep personal impact but also formative in the development of his artistic style. Shortly after the accident, his paintings became more serious and intense, characterized by a muted palette, highly realistic depictions, and emotionally charged subjects, often tinged with a sense of nostalgia and loss. He found nearly all of his subjects close to either Chadds Ford or Cushing.

In 1950, he was selected along with Jackson Pollock by Time magazine as one of the greatest American artists. That and other public attentions, made clear the battle lines drawn between supporters and practitioners of realism and abstraction as represented by Wyeth and Pollock. To add to the art world debates, in 1986, Wyeth made public a collection of 246 studies, drawings, and paintings, including many nudes, he had made of Helga Testorf, a neighbor in Chadds Ford.

Wyeth remains an enormously popular artist among the public and by museums. His work is in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art, among many others. Exhibitions of his work have been mounted by the National Gallery of Art (the first to display the Helga works in 1987), the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston,) Metropolitan Museum of Art, and most recently the Philadelphia Museum of Art, amongst many others.

In 1963, Andrew Wyeth became the first painter to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which was conferred by President John F. Kennedy. In 1977, he became the first American artist since John Singer Sargent elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts. In 1978, he was asked to join the Soviet Academy of the Arts, and in 1980, he was the first living U.S. artist to be elected to Britain's Royal Academy. Wyeth received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States Congress.
Take a look at my resource site Andrew Wyeth - Resources for Art Lovers which I developed a while back if you'd like to find out more about Wyeth, take a look at where you can see his paintings online and see some of the books which were published about him in his lifetime.
Andrew Wyeth: Memory & Magic takes a fresh look at the work of one of America's most beloved artists. In examining his entire oeuvre, the book celebrates the artist's ongoing love affair with everyday life-domestic, natural, and architectural. Found throughout Wyeth's work, these objects form patterns that illuminate core themes and reveal the artist wrestling with issues of memory, temporality, embodiment, and the metaphysical. Organized chronologically and thematically, the book explores how the artist's approach to these subjects was formed in his early career, and has been revisited in new and surprising ways in recent years.
Here are some links to article about his death which I'll be adding into my resource site.


Sarah said...

you, me and Karen all doing the same thing, honouring such a great painter, I am now off to drink a glass of fine red wine, work on a painting and think of his wonderful legacy

Anonymous said...

I was sad to see this, I love his work.

TSL said...

I remember as a teenager sitting next to my father on the sofa with a book of Andrew's paintings in Dad's lap. For a couple of hours we devoured that book, a magnifier used often as to not miss the tiniest detail. My father kept that book with his other favorite artist books, and from time to time while visiting we would review it. In my adulthood I was able to view a handful of Andrew's wonderfully exquisite paintings personally. Now both have gone on, but legacies and memories continue. Godspeed, Andrew Wyeth, and thank you for your gift to mankind.

Chuck Law said...

One of the best..
Andrew Wyeth's passing seems almost to be carefully timed and well placed, just as he lived his life. Along with so many others I find myself awe struck when confronted with his paintings and drawings. Deeply moving they are ..and so is the news that no more will be done.

Marion said...

I only became aware of Andrew Wyeth's work a couple of years ago but straight away I knew it was special as it hit a spot which only certain artist and certain art works can do....I know it may sound cliched but there was a spiritual quality that stays with you and makes you want to try to at least capture some of that quality into your own art work.

Terry Krysak said...

I first discovered Wyeth in Highschool in 1965 while taking my first art class. I was fascinated with his work then, and still am today. He was a major influence on me and one of the main reasons I decided to try to becom an artist. I wrote a post about him on my blog in December 2008, as he is one of my favorite artists.
Although I am sad at his passing, reaching the age of 91 is a blessing for anyone. He has left us with many beautiful paintings which will now serve as wonderful memories of his life.

adebanji said...

What this man did to watermedia makes me love his work!

Somehow he was able to go deeper into what he did than caught the ordinary eye.

Sad to loose such a painter!

Thanks for the post!

Jeanette Jobson said...

Wyeth's mastery of creating the extraordinary out of the ordinary was amazing. He is one of my favourite artists and I can spend hours looking at his work, deciphering how he did it and what he produced.

What a legacy he has left. I am truly grateful for it and for him.

Making A Mark said...

Reading the obits and past reviews and articles from the papers - now all added into my resources site - makes me think that there was a fair old difference of opinion about his work.

However anybody who can connect with so many people despite painting what are essentially quite stark and bleak paintings has definitely got 'something'.

It also made me wonder how many of his critics had ever visited these bleached ochre and olive lands when the sun isn't shining!

hmstrjam said...

i love andrew! Great posting. Love Brandywine valley

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