Born on July 12, 1917, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Andrew Wyeth was the youngest of five children born to illustrator N. C. Wyeth and his wife. Andrew came equipped with a bad hip and frequent bouts with illnesses, and parents decided that he was too fragile to attend school, so instead hired tutors. (Yes. Andrew Wyeth was homeschooled.)
While aspects of his childhood were rather solitary, for the most part, life in the Wyeth home was filled with art, music, literature, storytelling, a never-ending succession of props and costumes that N. C. used to compose his paintings and, of course, the large Wyeth family.
His Start in Art
Andrew began drawing a very early age. N. C. (who taught many students, including daughters Henriette and Carolyn) wisely did not attempt to instruct "Andy" until he'd reached the age of 15 and had some inkling of his own style. For two years, the younger Wyeth received rigorous academic training in draftsmanship and painting technique from his father.
Turned loose from the studio Wyeth also turned his back on oils as a painting medium, choosing less-forgiving watercolors instead. Those familiar with later works are often surprised at his early "wet brush" numbers: quickly executed, broad strokes and full of color.
N. C. was so enthusiastic about these early works that he showed them to Robert Macbeth, a New York City art dealer. No less enthusiastic, Macbeth staged a solo exhibition for Andrew. Most enthusiastic of all were the crowds who flocked to look and buy. The entire show sold within two days and, at the age of 20, Andrew Wyeth was a rising star in the art world.
Throughout his 20s Wyeth began painting more slowly, with greater attention to detail and composition, and less emphasis on color. He had learned to paint with egg tempera, and alternated between it and the "dry brush" watercolor method.
His art underwent a dramatic shift after October 1945 when N. C. was struck and killed at a railway crossing. One of his two pillars in life (the other being wife Betsy) was gone--and it showed in his paintings.
Landscapes became more barren, their palettes muted, and the occasional figures that appeared seemed enigmatic, poignant and "sentimental" (an art-critical word the artist came to loathe).
Wyeth later said that his father's death "made him," meaning that grief caused him to focus intensely, and forced him to paint with deep emotion going forward from the mid-1940s.
Though Wyeth did a lot of portraitures, he is best known for interiors, still lifes and landscapes in which figures are largely absent - Christina's World is the most notable exception. As the years passed his palette lightened up somewhat and late works contain hints of vibrant color.
Certain art professionals decry Andrew Wyeth's work as mediocre at best, even as a growing segment champions it. "The People's Painter's" output is beloved by an overwhelming majority of art fans, though, and please know this as well: there are no artists who wouldn't have jumped at the chance to observe his working technique.
Wyeth died on January 16, 2009, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. According to a spokesperson, Mr. Wyeth died in his sleep, at his home, after an unspecified brief illness.
- Winter 1946, 1946
- Christina's World, 1948
- Groundhog Day, 1959
- Master Bedroom, 1965
- Maga's Daughter, 1966
- Helga series, 1971-85
- Snow Hill, 1989
Quotes From Andrew Wyeth
"I prefer winter and fall when you feel the bone structure of the landscape--the loneliness of it, the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't show."
"If you display yourself completely, all your inner soul disappears. You have to keep something to your imagination, to yourself."
"I get letters from people about my work. The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches their feelings. In fact, they don't talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life or how their father died."