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Fine Art

An American Legacy: The Wyeth Family Painters

February 09, 2018

An American family of painters — N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth, have each carved their own legacy in American art history. The Wyeth men famously depicted American life differently from one another. Their approaches add to their individual and family legacies. Today we explore and celebrate the talented Wyeth family!

N.C. Wyeth, All day he hung round the cove, or upon the cliffs, with a brass telescope, 1911. Oil on canvas, 47 1/4″ H X 38 1/4″ W. Collection of the Brandywine River Museum of Art. Image and details courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

N.C. Wyeth would become one of the most prolific book and magazine illustrators of the early 20th Century.

N. C. began his formal training as a draftsman at Mechanic Arts High School in Boston, MA. In 1902 after two school transfers, N.C. found himself studying at the Howard Pyle School of Art. Howard Pyle was a prominent American illustrator. Five months after N.C. began studying under Pyle, N.C. successfully submitted a cover illustration to the Saturday Evening Post.

N.C. Wyeth, The Last of the Mohicans, endpaper illustration, 1919. Oil on canvas, 30″ H X 43″ W. Collection of the Brandywine River Museum of Art, given in memory of Raymond Platt Dorland by his children, 1973. Image and details courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

In 1906 N.C. married Carolyn Brenneman Bockius of Wilmington, Delaware. In 1908 the couple moved to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, along the Brandywine Creek. The Wyeth family would remain in Chadds Ford, PA and the idyllic pastoral scenes would continue to inspire N.C. and the Wyeth family painters.

N.C. Wyeth, Chadds Ford Landscape – July 1909, 1909. Oil on canvas, 25” H X 30 1/4″ W. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth, 1970. Image and details courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Andrew Wyeth, N.C.’s youngest of five children, would go on to paint Christina’s World. Hanging in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, this painting is the most visited in the museum. Christina’s World is controversial because it is loved and loathed among art critics.

Christina’s World was acquired from Macbeth Gallery by MoMA in 1949 for $1,800.00. It is a widely recognized image in the history of American Art and continues to draw crowds.

Painted with great detail in tempera on board, Andrew Wyeth’s depiction of Anna Christina Olson reclining in a field engages the viewers’ curiosity and draws them deeper — Who is this woman lying in the field? Why is her posture relaxed yet unnatural? By not painting her face, Andrew allows the audience to contemplate and focus on other details of painting that contribute to the narrative.

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World, 1948. Tempera on panel, 32 1/4″ H X 47 3/4″ W. Image and details courtesy of MoMA.

Andrew’s neighbor and famous subject, Anna Christina Olson of South Cushing, Maine, suffered from a degenerative muscle condition which cost her the use of her legs. Betsy James, who Andrew later married, introduced Andrew to Anna Christina.

Aware that others may only see her physical limitations, Andrew challenged himself to depict Anna Christina’s spiritual strength he witnessed as she crawled through the fields picking blueberries. Anna Christina and Andrew would maintain a close friendship throughout their lives.

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World (detail), 1948. Image courtesy of MoMA.

In June 2017 the Brandywine River Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum organized a retrospective exhibit of Andrew’s work to honor the 100th anniversary of his birth.

This exhibit consisted of over 100 of Andrew Wyeth’s best paintings and works on paper from major museums and private collections. The evolution of Andrew’s artwork and career were explored as well the critical response to his artworks.

USPS issued 12 commemorative $0.49 stamps on July 12, 2017. Each stamp features a detail of a different Andrew Wyeth painting. Image courtesy of the Brandywine River Museum of Art.

The Wyeth family continued to embed themselves within American Art and culture through the next generation of family artists. Jamie, son of Andrew, has a painting style is more reminiscent of his grandfather, N.C. Jamie favors bold, whimsical scenes.

Jamie Wyeth, Kleberg (detail), 1984. Oil on canvas. Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Collection. Image and details courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Upon completing the sixth grade in 1958, Jamie was home schooled like his father, Andrew. He began his formal study of art first with his aunt, Caroyln Wyeth, and then studying with his father according to Vanity Fair.

Jamie’s best known works are portraits of Andy Warhol (Jamie was a regular at Warhol’s studio, The Factory), John F. Kennedy, and other famous personas.

Jamie Wyeth, Portrait of John F. Kennedy, 1967. Oil on canvas, 16″ H X 29.” Image and details courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Wyeth’s posthumous commissioned portrait of Kennedy was partially given and partially sold to the MFA in June 2014. Currently the portrait is on loan to the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum until May 31, 2018.

Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth famously painted portraits of one another. Their mutual respect and fondness for one another’s talents led to the 1976 exhibition Andy Warhol and Jamie Wyeth Portraits of Each Other at the Coe Kerr Gallery in Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden Library.

Andy Warhol, Portrait of Jamie, 1976 (left). Acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 40″ H X 40″ W. Jamie Wyeth, Portrait of Andy Warhol, 1976 (right). Oil on canvas, 30″ H X 24″ W. Image and details courtesy of Smithsonian Libraries.

In July 2014 the MFA held a comprehensive retrospective of Jamie’s works. The exhibit, Jamie Wyeth, studied his approach to realism over the period of six decades. The retrospective consisted of portraits, assemblages, and landscapes painted by Jamie.

In 2015 this retrospective traveled to the Brandywine River Museum of Art. The Brandywine River Museum of Art is special to the Wyeth family because of its proximity to the Wyeth farm in Chadds Ford and because this museum lovingly houses works by all of the Wyeth family artists.

The Brandywine River Museum of Art is the best place to learn more about the Wyeth family artists. In fact, the museum is planning N.C. Wyeth: A Retrospective which will open June 22, 2019 and ends September 22, 2019. We look forward to reading the reviews of what will undoubtedly be a successful exhibition!