Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009 )
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Andrew Wyeth is one of the best known American Realist painters of the 20th century. Wyeth is the son of Newell Convers Wyeth, also a famous artist and illustrator, and mainly learned his craft from his father. Wyeth is generally known for his honest and endearing paintings of the land and people near his homes in Main and Pennsylvania.
Wyeth first found success when he was only 20 years old at his first show at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. His one man exhibition of watercolors sold out quickly, prompting the beginning of his success in the art world.
Wyeth married Betsy Merle James in 1940. Through Betsy, Wyeth met Christina Olson, who would famously become known for one of Wyeths best piece’s “Christina’s World.”
The Olson farmhouse in Maine would also become one of Wyeth’s sources of inspirations. It would become typical of Wyeth to include his neighbors and friends in his compositions through the years.
In 1945, Wyeth suffered the loss of his father and young nephew when both died tragically in an accident. The death of Wyeth’s father impacted his life and his art dramatically. Though this was a difficult time for the artist emotionally, his art became distinctively more mature, featuring realistic renderings and a subdued color palette. Symbolist themes also began to reoccur in Wyeth’s realist compositions.
Throughout the years, Wyeth divided his time between Maine and Pennsylvania creating his often controversial landscapes and subject paintings. He would execute these compositions in a variety of mediums from tempura and watercolor to simple pencil sketches. Wyeth set himself apart from most of his contemporaries by generally avoiding oil based paints (with the exception of his earliest works), however, most of Wyeth’s admirers would agree that he had no use for them. Wyeth showed exception skill with watercolors that could be matched by few.
Of particular interest are Wyeth’s “Helga” paintings, which caused a minor ripple in the art world when he released them in 1985. It is said that he began painting model Helga Testorf in 1971 and created a secret hidden cache of these paintings from everyone, including his wife. This sparked rumors of an affair with the model, and national media attention ensued. The paintings were eventually sold to an anonymous Japanese industrialist in 1990 for an apparently large amount. Some art critics speculate that the entire story of the hidden cache of paintings may have been made up to give attention to the paintings. Either way, the paintings were admired by the public and exhibited frequently in museums until they were resold to an American buyer in 2005.
During the height of Wyeth’s career, his work was relatively out of fashion. During the 1930s and 40s when Cubism and Surrealism were all the rage, Wyeth stayed true to his symbolic and emotionally charged Realist style. Perhaps it is this reason that his paintings were so popular. Wyeth has been awarded with a number of honors, most notably being the first painter to ever receive a Presidential Medal of Freedom (from President Kennedy in 1963). Wyeth was also awarded the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor from President George H. W. Bush in 1990.
Today, Wyeths remains one of the best known and most respected American artists of our time. Retrospectives of his work have broken attendance records at museums, and the prices that his paintings command at auction are reflective of how well loved he is by art collectors.
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