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Andrew Wyeth

American Painter

Andrew Wyeth Photo
Movements and Styles: American Regionalism, Realism, Magic Realism

Born: July 12, 1917 - Chadds Ford, PA

Died: January 16, 2009 - Chadds Ford, PA

"I think one's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes. I see no reason for painting but that. If I have anything to offer, it is my emotional contact with the place where I live and the people I do."

Andrew Wyeth Signature

Summary of Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth, one of America's best-known Realist painters of the 20th century, created canvases imbued with the mysteriousness of the real world, thus challenging traditional notions of reality. Wyeth rendered scenes of his everyday life in rural Pennsylvania and Maine, landscapes, and portraits with exacting detail, working primarily in watercolor and tempera instead of the more typical oil or acrylic. While famous for his realist depictions, Wyeth's compositions often carry a sense of the uncanny, which led some critics to call him a Magic Realist. While much beloved by a popular audience and, for a time, the critical establishment, Wyeth's reputation declined in the 1960s, as some felt his paintings did not keep up with the times and were not relevant to a contemporary culture that was experiencing various upheavals. Wyeth refused to change his style and continued painting the rural life he had always known. Later still, Wyeth became an American legend, and a touchstone for younger painters who have returned to realism to probe various issues confronting today's society.

Key Ideas

Wyeth's Realism, with its meticulous attention to detail, was not purely documentary. In particular, his compositions often employed skewed vantage points and perspectives, making his subjects seem a little uncanny, or strange. The strange perspective coupled with painstakingly controlled brushstrokes, which are the opposite of expressionistic, create a type of Realism that some critics referred to as Magic Realism. Wyeth's Magic Realism does not traffic in fantastical subjects but instead reveals the material world to be permeated with mystery and uncertainty.
Wyeth's preferred media - watercolor and egg tempera - were unusual choices for a modern artist, but his innovative use of a dry brush technique in both media allowed him to build up complex surfaces on the canvas that he likened to weaving. These "woven" surfaces create the effect of a stillness, an almost surreal atmosphere, for his subjects.
Despite living a rather rural and secluded life in Pennsylvania and Maine, Wyeth kept tabs on the contemporary art world, and while some critics dismissed his work as a sentimental depiction of rural life, many of Wyeth's paintings could be considered quite radical in their exploration of the innate sexuality of his subjects, including the young Siri Erickson, the older Helga Testorf, and even his young neighbor Eric Standard, all of whom he painted unabashedly nude.
Andrew Wyeth Photo

Andrew Newell Wyeth was born on July 12, 1917, in rural Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He was the youngest son of Caroline Borkius Wyeth and the renowned artist and illustrator N.C. Wyeth. Continuing in the creative footsteps of their father, four of the five Wyeth children became artists. As a young child, Wyeth was prone to illness, and he contracted whooping cough. Concerned for his fragile health, his parents decided to school him at home. When Wyeth was three, the family began spending summers in Maine, where they enjoyed nature and relished the intellectual and social stimulation of their visiting guests. Exhibiting artistic promise at an early age, Andrew learned to draw before he could read, and eventually he assisted in creating his father's illustrations.

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