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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Peter Hurd

Hawaiian Print, Kapiolani Defying Pele at Kiloauea, 1824, Peter Hurd
About a week ago as we were on the way home from vacation, we stopped in at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where I reacquainted myself with the Wyeth family of artists. In returning home and reviewing the material I'd collected I found there was one Brandywine artist I'd neglected. Peter Hurd was not a Wyeth, but he did marry into the family. His wife was Henriette Wyeth, daughter of the family patriarch, painter and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth, also the sister of the better known, Andrew Wyeth.
Hurd billed himself as the Andrew Wyeth of the West.
Self-portrait, Henriette
Wyeth Hurd, 1920s
Peter Hurd was born in Roswell, New Mexico in 1904, but left his birthplace in 1921 after receiving a senatorial ap-pointment to West Point. However, he left the academy after only two years to pursue a career not as a soldier but as an artist. The young Hurd sought out N.C. Wyeth in Chadds Ford, Penn-sylvania, where he studied as a private pupil. Undaunted by Wyeth’s warning that studying under him would be much tougher than attending West Point, Peter accepted the challenge and studied alongside Wyeth and his child-ren for ten years. All the Wyeths be-came quite fond of the handsome, energetic young man in cowboy boots and hat, but none so much as Wyeth’s eldest daughter, Henriette. She married him in 1929.
A  Ranch on the Plains, Peter Hurd
After a decade on the east coast, Hurd began to long for his independence and a return to the West. These desires ultimately lead the couple, along with their growing family, to San Patricio, New Mexico where they would spend the rest of their lives. The landscape of New Mexico inspired Hurd and it was there he developed his true artistic style. Peter Hurd became famous for his egg temperas, watercolors and lithographs depicting the New Mexico way of life in the form of landscape and portraits. He delighted in capturing a moment he knew would soon change. This rush against time not only challenged the artist, but also led to his creation of field sketches.

Peter Wyeth Hurd, Henriette Wyeth Hurd, his mother.

These sketches were done quickly with watercolor or pen and ink wash. It was often from his field sketches that Hurd created his detailed temperas and watercolors. Despite his growing popularity as a regional artist, Peter’s adventurous spirit took him all over the world. His first major excursion took place in the mid 1940’s, when Peter left home to serve as an illustrative war correspondent for LIFE Magazine. The resulting wartime works varied from field sketches to fully developed egg temperas and watercolors. Many of these war sketches now hang in the Pentagon.

A Time magazine cover
from the early 1950s.

The vintage tobacco ad based upon Hurd's painting seem
almost amusing in its blatant disregard for human health as compared to the advertising standards of today.
After the war, Hurd traveled to North Africa, Asia and Saudi Arabia where he befriended, and painted, King Faisal. These locales made for intriguing works, however, none would bring Peter as much attention as when he was asked to paint President Johnson’s official portrait. The portrait was notoriously rejected by the president, which generated a great deal of media attention, making Peter Hurd a household name. From his humble beginnings as a Wyeth’s pupil, to his success as a southwest artist, Hurd never lost his commitment to the canvas. He continued to be passionate about his painting career until his death in 1984.

The West Texas Museum, fresco mural, 1950s, Peter Hurd.
I've added the labels for clarity; they are not present in the mural.
In addition to his landscapes, portraits, and watercolor sketches, Peter Hurd may well be best known for a fresco mural in the rotunda of the West Texas museum to commemorate the South Plains pioneers. The base of the Museum was constructed in 1936. In 1953, when the two upper floors containing the sixteen-sided entrance rotunda was completed, the Board of Trustees appointed two committees to facilitate the mural: one to determine the nature and size of the painting and to select an artist. The Selection Committee also decided which individuals should be chosen to represent each of sixteen categories of pioneers. The Mural Committee decided that the painting should be a continuous one, completely encircling the Rotunda. They decided it should begin four feet above the floor and extend to the mezzanine floor above; some twelve feet high and one hundred and eight feet in circumference, rendered as a true fresco painting. Peter Hurd of San Patricio, New Mexico, was chosen without a mural competition.

The painting that made Peter Hurd
famous, a presidential portrait of
Lyndon Johnson rejected as, "The
ugliest thing I ever saw."


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