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The Trial of the Bow

N. C. Wyeth, American, 1882 - 1945

Made in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, United States, North and Central America


Oil on canvas

Framed: 58 × 45 3/4 × 2 1/4 inches (147.3 × 116.2 × 5.7 cm)

Curatorial Department:
American Art

Object Location:

Currently not on view

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
Gift of GlaxoSmithKline, 2012

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One of America’s greatest illustrators, Newell Convers Wyeth has thrilled generations with his bold visualizations of beloved tales of fantasy and adventure. A star student of renowned illustrator Howard Pyle, Wyeth absorbed Pyle’s creed that dictated historical accuracy be spiced for maximum dramatic effect, and applied it to his own work, as seen here. This painting—made in preparation for an illustration of George Herbert Palmer’s translation of The Odyssey of Homer (1929)—captures the critical moment when Ulysses, hiding incognito among Penelope’s suitors, finally reveals himself by shooting an arrow from his own rigid bow, which had failed to yield to anyone else: “Then Ulysses took the bow in his hand, and . . . then he bent it, and strung it, and he twanged the string, and the tone of it was shrill and sweet as the cry of a swallow. After this he took an arrow from the quiver, and laid the notch upon the string, and drew the bow to the full, still sitting in his place. And the arrow went straight to the mark.”

Wyeth was born on a farm in Needham, Massachusetts, and spent most of his life on a sprawling homestead in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. There he raised five children, most notably his son Andrew Wyeth, who would become a great painter of American life. N. C. Wyeth’s house and studio are now part of the Brandywine River Museum, which houses the largest collection of the artist’s work in the world.