Wednesday, January 21, 2009

American artist Andrew Wyeth dies at 91

Beloved and iconoclastic American artist Andrew Wyeth died Friday, January 16, at his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He was 91. Andrew Newell Wyeth III was born on July 12, 1917, in Chadds Ford, the son of the famous illustrator N.C. Wyeth. As a boy Andrew was frail. He was homeschooled and learned to draw before he could read. As a teenager, he did illustrations under his father's name, but despite his admiration for his father he resisted following in his career footsteps. Wyeth's other hero was the famed realist painter Winslow Homer and his influence can be seen in Wyeth's own work. Wyeth married a local Maine woman, Betsy James in 1940. Their relationship would endure a lifetime and she would be his champion, overseeing the publication of illustrated books, starting a reproduction business, creating a Wyeth archive and producing a film documentary about her husband.

Wyeth never roamed far from his boyhood home and his work almost always depicts friends and family and the Pennsylvania or Maine landscapes familiar to him. "He painted snowy landscapes under leaden skies, a barn with a door ajar, an abandoned house, tire tracks, a wedding tent in an empty field, fishermen’s nets hung to dry in the breeze: images of absence, silence, loss, abandonment, desolation but also expectation." (New York Times) Being a realist painter at the height of abstract expressionism's popularity, he had a mixed reaction from critics. His conservative politics and his commitment to his rural haunts also put him at odds with the New York art scene of the 1950s and 60s. Nevertheless, he was immensely popular with the public and enjoyed commercial success and ultimately critical recognition, as well. An exhibition of his work toured the U.S. in 1966-67, attracting huge crowds at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Whitney Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 1976 Wyeth was given a retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Books and DVDs about this great American artist can be borrowed from the Glendale and Pasadena Public Libraries. Also available are numerous titles about his father N.C. Wyeth, and his son Jaime, who is also a painter.

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