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Thursday, April 5, 2012

N.C. Wyeth

N. C. Wyeth
When one mentions the name Wyeth, the first thing that comes to mind is the cold, dry, yet deeply moving painted images of Andrew Wyeth and what's come to be known as the Brandywine School. Though probably the best known of this large clan of painters which spans three generations, Andrew is only one of several in perhaps the most artistic family of American painters since the Peale's of Philadelphia. Andrew was the youngest of five children. His older sisters, Henriette and Carolyn both became painters, while his brother Nathaniel became an engineer and inventor and his sister Ann a composer. They were the creative offspring of Carolyn (Bockius) Wyeth and her husband Newell Convers Wyeth, better know as N.C., the artistic father of them all. The third generation of Wyeth painters is represented by his grandson, Jamie Wyeth (Andrew Wyeth's son).

Wyeth's Bronco Buster cover, 1903
The roots of this paint splattered family tree go back Needham, Massachusetts where N. C. Wyeth was born in 1882. His parents recognized his talent early. His father had in mind for him study and establish himself in a stable career as a draftsman or engineer. His mother, however, saw the artist in him, and took his work to Boston to see if her son had talent worth developing. The family compromised by enrolling Newell in a drafting course, followed by a course in illustration. The talent was there and proved to be well worth developing as the twenty-year-old N.C. was invited by the famed illustrated, Howard Pyle to his tuition-free school of art in Wilmington, Delaware. He quickly became Pyle's star pupil, reflecting the master's style, charisma, energy, and imagination in everything he did. A year later, he published his first illustration, Bronco Buster (left), the cover of the February 21, 1903, Saturday Evening Post. The climb to the top came fast. Similar works quickly began appearing in Harper's Weekly, Century, Cosmopolitan, and Scribner's.

First Farmer of the Land, 1945, unfinished painting
as seen in the studio of N.C. Wyeth.
A short time later, Wyeth married and began building the big brick house in nearby Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania that was to make the family name synonymous with the community. On a hill behind it, overlooking the Brandywine Valley, he build his studio, since enlarged several times as the Wyeth brood nurtured their inherited talents under their father's strict tutelage. As his fame grew through what has been called the "Golden Age of Illustration" during the first decades of the 1900s, Wyeth, like his idol, Howard Pyle, began attracting the best and brightest of his day to his studio as students. Two of them, Peter Hurd, and John McCoy not only became exceptional artists but came to marry two of his daughters, Henriette and Ann, further adding to the luster and numbers of this painting clan. Today, you can visit the large, cluttered, hilltop studio where it all began, restored and outfitted just as it was when it all tragically came to an end. A car Wyeth and a grandson were riding in stalled on a railroad crossing and they were both killed by a passing train. On the studio easel is the unfinished painting, First Farmer of the Land  (above) which was being done for Country Gentleman magazine at the time.  The palette next to the easel is dated, October, 18, 1945, the day before he died.
One More Step Mr. Hands and I'll Blow Your Brains Out, 1911, N.C. Wyeth,
an illustration from Treasure Island. Painting titles often reflected dialogue from the book.

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