Friday, January 16, 2009

Goodbye Andrew

Painter Andrew Wyeth Dies at 91


PHILADELPHIA (Jan. 16) - Artist Andrew Wyeth, who portrayed the hidden melancholy of the people and landscapes of Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley and coastal Maine in works such as "Christina's World," died early Friday. He was 91.

Wyeth died in his sleep at his home in the Philadelphia suburb of Chadds Ford, according to Hillary Holland, a spokeswoman for the Brandywine River Museum.

The son of famed painter and book illustrator N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth gained wealth, acclaim and tremendous popularity on his own. But he chafed under criticism from some experts who regarded him as a facile realist, not an artist but merely an illustrator.

"The world has lost one of the greatest artists of all time," George A. Weymouth, a friend of Wyeth's who is chairman of the board of the Brandywine Conservancy, said in a statement.

A Wyeth retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006 drew more than 175,000 visitors in 15 1/2 weeks, the highest-ever attendance at the museum for a living artist. The Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, a converted 19th-century grist mill, includes hundreds of works by three generations of Wyeths.

Wyeth even made "Peanuts," in a November 1966 comic strip: After a fire in his dog house destroys his van Gogh, Snoopy replaces it with an Andrew Wyeth.

It was in Maine that Wyeth found the subject for "Christina's World," his best-known painting. And it was in Pennsylvania that he met Helga Testorf, a neighbor in his native Chadds Ford who became the subject of the intimate portraits that brought him millions of dollars and a wave of public attention in 1986.

The "Helga" paintings, many of them full-figure nudes, came with a whiff of scandal: Wyeth said he had not even told his wife, Betsy, about the more than 200 paintings and sketches until he had completed them in 1985.

It was at Kuerner's farm that Wyeth met Testorf, a German emigre who cleaned and cooked for Kuerner.
"I could not get out of my mind the image of this Prussian face with its broad jaw, wide-set eyes, blond hair," Wyeth said.

Wyeth painted Testorf from 1970 to 1985, but didn't show his wife any of the pictures until 1981. In 1985, he revealed the full series to her, and declared he wanted them sold. The buyer, Leonard Andrews, reportedly paid $6 million to $10 million for them.

The Helga paintings created a sensation when their existence was revealed in 1986, in part because many were nudes and because of Betsy Wyeth's provocative answer when asked what the works were about. "Love," she said.

"He's a very secret person. He doesn't pry in my life and I don't pry in his. And it's worth it," she said.
After 1985, Wyeth painted Testorf at least three more times.

The exhibition of the Helga paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington drew tens of thousands, but it renewed the dispute between Wyeth's admirers and his equally passionate detractors.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York pointedly refused to accept the exhibition. And it turned out that the original stories about the collection overstated things, since some of the Helga paintings had been exhibited earlier and Betsy Wyeth had been aware of some of them.

Andrews sold the Helga collection in 1990 to a Japanese industrialist for $40 million to $50 million, dealer Warren Adelson said in 2006, when he was handling the private sale of some 200 of the works. Adelson didn't identify the industrialist.

"The heart of the Helga series is that I was trying to unlock my emotions in capturing her essence, in getting her humanity down," Wyeth was quoted in the catalog to an exhibition Adelson organized.

Some critics dismissed Wyeth's art as that of a mere "regionalist." Art critic Hilton Kramer was even more direct, once saying, "In my opinion, he can't paint."

The late J. Carter Brown, who was for many years director of the National Gallery, called such talk "a knee-jerk reaction among intellectuals in this country that if it's popular, it can't be good."

"I think the man's mastery of a variety of techniques is dazzling, and I think the content is in many cases moving," Brown said.


Cecile/DreamCreateRepeat said...

I missed the news of his death, so thank you for sharing this article. One of my weekend get-aways was the the Brandywine Valley, in large part because of our visit to the Wyeth museum. The setting, the building and the artwork combined into a beautiful experience.

OH MY #6 said...

that first image is stunning.


Gillian said...

Thanks for the education on this man. I did not know of him. I will go look for more now!
I loved both pictures.
Yoli, your comment disappeared. I had to delete one of two postings. I accidently posted twice. I did get to read it though, so thank you very much!

Vivian M said...

How sad.

susanna said...

I'm a big fan of Andrew Wyeth's work. I don't know of any other painter who can paint the cold of winter better that he could. I can practically hear the cold wind howling and the frozen grass crunching underfoot.

Your post is excellent and very interesting.

The Wanderers' Daughter said...

It's interesting, I always chafe against the "insult" of calling an artist an illustrator. I have always preferred to be called an illustrator, because to me illustration implies craft, and I believe there's too little craftsmanship in the arts these days. I'm talking about Craftsmanship in the Medieval sense, in the Renaissance sense. What would Michelangelo have been without his ability to illustrate? A craftsman is someone who understands the underlying structure to a mathematical degree, who has practiced and studied his craft until that structure lies in every fiber of his body. You can not build a cathedral or a piece of furniture that will last and remain beautiful through the centuries without that kind of craftsmanship. To me, that is the basis of illustration, which is why I prefer it to the term "artist", which, in today's world, allows for too much sloppiness. That's just one person's opinion (one person who grew up in artists' colonies, and who, therefore, might be a bit too cynical), but there it is.

GeNeRaCiOn AsErE said...

que vida tan bella, no puedo decir que fue larga, porque ninguna vida lo es...
sin embargo, lo peor de envejecer es despedirnos, las despedidas duelen tanto, que a veces nos matan parte de la vida.
alguien dijo una vez, que un abrazo de despedida equivale a una pequena muerte... y lo creo, por eso me gustan tanto las bienvenidas, se la doy a estos cuadros... a esta obra que gracias a todos nosotros queda viva.

Gracias Yoli, por mostrarnos a Andrew.

Susie of Arabia said...

Hi Yoli - Thanks for posting this. I really enjoyed it. For several years, I participated in a fine arts program at my son's school, called Meet the Masters. I introduced fine art to the childre, and Christina's World was one of the paintings i took great joy in presenting. He was an incredible talent.