Visual artist and realist painter (in the regionalist style) Andrew Newell Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917. Wyeth often noted: “I paint my life.” Andrew was the youngest of five children of illustrator and artist N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth and his wife, Carolyn Bockius Wyeth. Due to his frail health, Andrew was home-tutored and he spent much time reading poetry and the writings of Henry David Thoreau and studied their relationships with nature, as well as enjoying movies and music. Wyeth’s father was the only teacher and Andrew led both a sheltered life and one that was “obsessively focused”. Andrew’s siblings were all creative types. Henriette Wyeth Hurd, the eldest, became a well-known painter of portraits and still life. Carolyn, the second child, was also a painter. Nathaniel Wyeth, the third child, was a successful inventor. Ann was a musician at a young age and became a composer as an adult.
As a teenager, under his father’s guidance, Andrew mastered figure study and watercolour, and later learned egg tempera from his brother-in-law Peter Hurd. He studied art history on his own, admiring many masters of Renaissance and American painting, especially Winslow Homer. Like his father, Andrew started off doing book illustrations, but by 1937, at age twenty, Wyeth had his first one-man exhibition of watercolours at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City. The entire inventory of paintings sold out, and his life path seemed certain.
- In 1940, Wyeth married Betsy James, whom he met in 1939 in Maine. Their first child, Nicholas, was born in 1943, followed by James (“Jamie”) three years later in 1946. Later on, his son Jamie followed his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, becoming the third generation of Wyeth artist.
- In October 1945, his father and his three-year-old nephew, Newell Convers Wyeth II were killed when their car stalled on railroad tracks near their home and was struck by a train. Shortly afterwards, Wyeth’s art consolidated into his mature and enduring style.
Wyeth’s favourite subjects were the land and people around him, both in his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and at his summer home in Cushing, Maine. Dividing his time between Pennsylvania and Maine, Wyeth maintained a realist painting style for over seventy years. His solitary walks were the primary means of inspiration for his landscapes. He developed an extraordinary intimacy with the land and sea and strove for a spiritual understanding based on history and unspoken emotion. He typically created dozens of studies on a subject in pencil or loosely brushed watercolor before executing a finished painting, either in watercolour, drybrush (a watercolour style in which the water is squeezed from the brush), or egg tempera.
- On January 16, 2009, Andrew Wyeth died in his sleep in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, after a brief illness. He was 91 years old.
“Is It Art?”