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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth Self-portrait, 1945
He was born in 1917, the was the son of a internationally famous illustrator. All but two of N.C. Wyeth's children became artists. One became an engineer, the other a musician. All studied painting with their father from the time they were able to hold a brush. Andrew, the youngest, was home tutored from childhood. He became the most famous of the Chadds Ford clan, with success coming at a very young age. He had his first one-man show in New York City in 1937 at the age of 20. His palette was sombre and still is--greys and browns predominate. His medium of choice was watercolour and tempera though he also sometimes works in oils. His style is as sombre as his palette. Some find it cold. Others consider it as dry as the drybrush painting technique he often uses. Many find his austere realism disquieting. Despite this, for years he has been one of my two favorite artists.

Christina's World, 1948, Andrew Wyeth
Wyeth's work centered on two locales, the Brandywine Valley of south-eastern Pennsylvania and the coast of Maine where he spent much of his childhood, and where today, his son, Jamie, lives in a restored lighthouse. Andrew Wyeth first came to notice in the art world with the purchase by the Museum of Modern Art of his 1948 painting of Christina Olson (Christina's World), the crippled daughter of one of his Port Clyde neighbours. Christina died in 1968 and the Olson home, depicted in the painting is now listed to the National Register of Historic Places (the first ever to be so listed because of a painting). Christina and her brother appeared in numerous Wyeth paintings. More recently his relationship with Helga Testorf (below), a Chadds Ford neighbour and his intensely sensitive nude portraits of her have shed new light on both the man and the artist.

Braids, 1979, Andrew Wyeth,
portrait of Helga Testorf, his frequent
 model and mistress.
Accolades over the years have come almost by the bushel. Both President Eisenhower and former Soviet Premier, Nikita Khruschev, greatly admired his work (though different works). He was the first painter to ever receive the Presidential Freedom Award, given by President Kennedy in 1963; and in 1970, became the first living artist to ever have a show at the White House. He's also the only American painter besides John Singer Sargent to ever be elected to the French Académie des Beaux-Arts. The following year, 1978, he was made an honorary member of the Soviet Academy of the Arts. And in 1980, the British made him the first living American artists to be elected to the Royal Academy. At home, his work routinely broke attendance records at museums wherever it is shown. In 2007, he received from President Bush the National Medal of Arts. He died January 16, 2009 at the age of 91.

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