Last night America lost one of its most beloved artists---Andrew Wyeth. He died Thursday evening, January 15, 2009 at the age of 91 at his birthplace, Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania. I thought of Wyeth a little after noon today, before I heard of his death, as I passed the Brandywine River Museum in Chadd's Ford on my way home from the Philadelphia International Airport. I have visited the museum several times to see his work. The museum houses numerous paintings of Andrew Wyeth, his father N.C. Wyeth, who was a well known book illustrator, and Jamie Wyeth, his son. Wyeth has been a favorite realist artist ever since I saw his most famous painting "Christina's World" in one of my art history classes in 1968.
"Christina's World" (1948) is a painting of Christina Olson, a neighbor whose deteriorating muscles paralyzed her lower body. It resides in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Strangely enough, Christina was not Wyeth's model for the painting, but rather his wife Betsy. It is one of the most recognizable pieces of American art.
As one who has always been drawn to realist art Andrew Wyeth's egg tempera and water color paintings fascinated me. This was not the case with many art critics who were enamored by abstract painting and pop art. For some Wyeth was simply another illustrator.
For me his realism was at times photographic and his colors and textures seemed to capture the look, feel, and age of the Pennsylvania landscape, as well as that of his other residence in Cushing, Maine. I loved his paintings of people, barns, stone houses, snowy landscapes, and common objects that all had the distinctive Wyeth signature in their color, drybrush texture, and sparing composition. And yet, his art was more than copying reality. He was able to create a sense of mystery, wonder, solitude, and deep feeling in his paintings.
I remember the publicity, and scandal, surrounding the unveiling of his series of Helga pictures (247) that came to public attention in 1986, but which were painted over a 15 year period. Part of the controversy was that these intimate paintings and drawings, many of which were nude figures, were even unknown to Wyeth's wife and Helga's husband.
In death his paintings will live on for many generations to come in the tangible expressions of his heart, soul, and creative spirit.