A few years ago, a small group of friends and I visited The Brandywine River Museum in Chadd’s Ford, PA What a lovely setting to showcase the Wyeth Family Collection where three generations of Wyeths lived and worked. We arrived rather early and decided to grab breakfast across the street at Hank’s Place. I highly recommend their frittatas. This restaurant was a favorite of Andrew Wyeth. It is said he would unobtrusively sit in the back table and quietly listen to some of the comments folks would make about his art. Sure would have been special to run into him here. I probably would have babbled out something like….” Hello Mr. Wyeth, I so admire your work. It must take you hours and hours to paint with those tiny little brushes, working so diligently in egg tempera like a monk. How did you manage to keep your 250 Helga paintings secret from your wife for 15 years? Are the Kuerners as strange as you make them look? Is it true that Christina of your famous painting “Christina’s World” could not walk and was literally dragging herself across that field? Of course I jest. If I had the great fortune to run into Andrew Wyeth at Hank’s place I would probably nonchalantly look the other way and keep eating my frittata but all the while hoping to make just one small eye contact. I hate hangers- on. Don’t you?
We wanted to combine a painting excursion with a museum visit. Our goal was to paint outside the museum along the lovely Brandywine stream, break for lunch and visit the collection in the afternoon. We brought our paints and easels with us and happily began working outside. Our plan ended when a torrential rain began. The museum kindly offered us refuge inside the museum. Here we could paint from inside looking out the large windows overlooking the landscape.
I have always adored the colorful and richly painted works of N. C. Wyeth. I was amazed to see how large and magnificently painted the original paintings for Treasure Island were. N.C. was an illustrator during the Golden Age of Illustration (1880-1920). His paintings are not bland interpretations. They are richly painted works of art. N.C.’s loaded brush and bravura mark harkens back to the Venetians. Surely he must have admired Titian.
N.C studied with the renowned illustrator Howard Pyle and quickly rose to fame. “During his lifetime, Wyeth created more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books, 25 of them for Scribner’s, the Scribner Classics, which is the work for which he is best known The first of these, Treasure Island” Despite his success as an illustrator, Wyeth felt a keen need to be known as a painter of the fine arts and wanted to lose his title as an illustrator. Sadly, he never achieved the fame he sought as a painter.
N.C’s famous son, Andrew Wyeth has always been popular with the masses although not with some art critics who viewed his work indifferently. https://andrewwyeth.com/ Here is a good article regarding the critics https://theconversation.com/andrew-wyeth-and-the-artists-fragile-reputation-79804
The popularity of Andrew Wyeth’s work can not be denied and the mass adulation has almost been a deterrent for me. I was never really a fan until I stood in front of one of his quiet, yet powerful egg tempera paintings. They have a unique strange quality. One appreciates the masterful technique and quiet aspect of his subject and his own melancholy persona is evident. Wyeth’s works seem so much more moving in person than in the myriad of reproductions that I have seen in books and gracing the living room walls of countless homes. Viewing the Wyeth family work, their studios and experiencing the haunting austerity of Brandywine country is a unique experience.
I strongly suggest also visiting the Wyeth studio, Home and the Kuerners farm where Andrew Wyeth created many of his evocative paintings.
I saw the show at the National Gallery of Art some years back featuring the “Helga Series” These incredible paintings also made me appreciate the uniqueness of a Wyeth.
Great Film about Andrew Wyeth
An added bonus was to have as our personal tour guide Victoria Wyeth, grandaughter of Andrew. Her personal recollections and enthusiastic delivery made the tour especially enjoyable. She talked about how her grandfather loved taking walks through the countryside and especially enjoyed the leaves and the sound they made as he walked. When I saw this leaf on the museum grounds by the river, I was beckoned to paint it “a la Wyeth” .
Added Note: Jamie Wyeth, son of Andrew is also a successful artist . Carolyn Wyeth , daughter of N.C. Wyeth and sister of Andrew Wyeth, was a well-known artist in her own right. Henriette Wyeth Hurd , NC’s eldest daughter was also a painter.