Andrew Wyeth, January

Andrew Wyeth
born July 12, 1917; died January 16, 2009

Best known for his spare palette and extraordinarily detailed realism– at a time when these were associated with middle class conservatism– Andrew Wyeth epitomized rugged individualism and determined loyalty to a personal artistic vision despite the scorn of the artistic establishment. The son of the famous illustrator N. C. Wyeth, Andrew learned drawing and watercolor painting from his father; later, he learned egg tempera from his brother-in-law, Peter Hurd. Wyeth had no formal training in an academic setting. At the age of 20, after his first exhibition of drawings and paintings sold out, Wyeth went on to combine realism and his love for his New England roots to become an iconic American painter.

One of Wyeth’s most well-known pictures is “Christina’s World”, which exemplifies Wyeth’s exploration of the psychological impact of the often harsh New England landscape on the human figure (and the psyche which it symbolizes). In this case the painting is based on an actual observation of his crippled neighbor crawling home one day. There was also the scandal of the “Helga” series, 1971-1985, the model for which is perhaps the most carefully and extensively studied individual in the history of any artist’s body of work. Perhaps its most threatening implicit statement is that of the necessity of the artist’s not being bound by the expectations and opinions of others–critical or personal.

Wyeth’s work has been criticized as illustrative in technique and sentimental in subject matter. In spite of that, he was the first living American artist to be elected to Britain’s Royal Academy, and frame shops can attest to the perennial popularity to their customers of prints of Andrew Wyeth’s paintings. Whether or not you make pictures like his, one of the obvious lessons of Wyeth’s life is that you should persevere in your art for the sake of developing your own personal vision despite the (often artificially manufactured) opinion of the marketplace.

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