Return to Previous Page

Andrew Wyeth
Andrew Wyeth
Photo by Victoria Wyeth, 1996
© 1996 Victoria Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917 into an artist family in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. His father, N.C. Wyeth, who had gained fame as the illustrator of Scribner’s Classics, was also a painter and muralist. N.C. had studied with Howard Pyle, a famous illustrator and progenitor of the “Brandywine School,” a term that has since been applied to Pyle’s students and their followers, including two of Andrew's siblings and eventually his son. Originally this school of painting focused on the Brandywine River valley, its rich farmland, wooded glens, and pre-colonial architecture built by Quaker, Scots-Irish, and Swedish settlers.

Andrew grew up under the tutelage of his unconventional and imposing father, who imbued him with a passion for nature, books, and music, and a disdain for cities and analytical institutions. On long walks together in the countryside, they steeped themselves in both the human and natural history of their locale. Andrew was encouraged to paint and draw, and to cultivate his imagination and emotions. When he began to study in his father’s studio as a young teenager, he was rigorously trained in an academic method, using plaster casts, still lifes, and live models. N.C. stressed the primacy of identifying with the model, merging with the subject, and committing the details to memory.

Delve more deeply into the minutia of nature and the quiet corners of existence.
A precocious artist, Andrew had his drawings published and shown when he was still a boy. In 1935, at age eighteen, he participated in "The Wyeth Family" exhibition at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia, where he received praise for his oils and watercolors and an offer to return for a one-man show the next year. Wider critical recognition came two years later with his sold out one-man show of freely brushed Maine watercolors at the Macbeth Gallery in New York. Frequent comparisons to Winslow Homer, although complimentary, inspired Wyeth to choose another artistic path. From that point on he would delve more deeply into the minutia of nature and the quiet corners of existence, simultaneously learning the painstaking technique of egg tempera. Perennial subjects would include the landscape of his beloved homes—Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania in the winter, and Cushing, Maine in the summer. In portraiture, he often chose individuals he had known over the years in these places, family members, neighbors, drifters, and misfits.

Groundhog Day
Groundhog Day
1959
Andrew Wyeth (American, born 1917)
Tempera on Masonite
31 3/8 x 32 1/8 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of Henry F. du Pont and Mrs. John Wintersteen, 1959 © Andrew Wyeth

Groundhog Day

Wyeth’s fondness for his neighbors, the routines of daily life, and the meanings found in ordinary objects can be seen in his tempera Groundhog Day of 1959. The kitchen table is set for Karl Kuerner, a neighbor farmer who had served as a surrogate father to Andrew after the untimely death of N.C. Wyeth. The artist recollected "That February day the sun’s rays caught the corner of the table that was set for dinner, awaiting the return of Mr. Kuerner from a farm sale in Lancaster." Beneath this simple recollection lies much more, for the painting is a classic example of Wyeth’s imaginative picture-building, using memory, metaphor, and numerous studies that record the appearance in the composition of Kuerner’s wife, Anna, and the farm dog, Nell. Although the figures disappeared in the final painting, their emotional presence remains, lending both the mystery and tension typical of Wyeth’s work.

Public Sale
Public Sale
1943
Andrew Wyeth (American, born 1917)
Tempera on panel
22 x 48 inches
Philadelphia Museum of Art: Bequest of Margaret McKee Breyer, 2000 © Andrew Wyeth

Public Sale

Expressive pictorial devices are employed to convey emotion in Public Sale, a pivotal work of the 1940s. This tempera painting depicts the forced sale of a farm in Lancaster County, after the death of the farmer’s wife. Wyeth, moved by the somber mood of the event, made numerous sketches of people and objects on the spot, but subsequently omitted them from the final painting, explaining "it’s not what you put in but what you leave out that counts." This process of simplification and distillation, added to Wyeth’s use of the barren landscape to provide emotional atmosphere, sets his work apart from the social realism of his contemporaries.

Return to Previous Page