Andrew Wyeth in 1964.
Ο Αμερικανός ρεαλιστής και «τοπικιστής» ζωγράφος Αντριου Γουάιεθ πέθανε στην κατοικία του στα περίχωρα της Φιλαδέλφειας σε ηλικία 91 ετών, ανακοίνωσε σήμερα ένας εκπρόσωπος του Μουσείου Brandywine River.
Ο Αντριου Νιούελ Γουάιεθ, γεννήθηκε στις 12 Ιουλίου του 1917 στην Πενσιλβάνια, και έγινε γνωστός για τις σκηνές μελαγχολικής ατμόσφαιρας που ζωγράφισε με φωτογραφική ακρίβεια συχνά στους τόνους του γκρί και του καφέ.
Το πιο διάσημο έργο του «ο κόσμος της Χριστίνας» (1948) απεικονίζει μια ντυμένη στα ροζ γυναίκα που σκαλφαλώνει σε έναν λόφο στην κορυφή του οποίου βρίσκεται μια βικτοριανού στυλ κατοικία. θεωρείται ως ένας από τους σημαντικότερους Αμερικανούς «τοπικιστές» ζωγράφους, και ήταν ένας από τους πρώτους σύγχρονους καλλιτέχνες που έργο τους εκτίθεται στον Λευκό Οίκο από το 1970.
Ο ζωγράφος εμπνεύστηκε στο έργο του από τους τόπους της κατοικίας του στην Πενσιλβάνια και το Μέιν, και έργα του βρίσκονται στα σημαντικότερα μουσεία των ΗΠΑ.
Το 1967 τιμήθηκε με το βραβείο Αϊνστάιν, και το 1976 εξελέγη μέλος της Ακαδημίας Καλών Τεχνών στο Παρίσι. Το 1988 του απονεμήθηκε η υψηλότερη διάκριση του αμερικανικού Κογκρέσου, το Χρυσό Μετάλλιο. Το 2007 ο πρόεδρος Τζόρτζ Μπους του απένειμε το Εθνικό Μετάλλιο των Τεχνών.
Andrew Wyeth, Realist and Lightning Rod, Dies at 91
He died in his sleep, said a spokeswoman for the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, outside Philadelphia.
For most of his career, Mr. Wyeth gave America a prim and flinty view of Puritan rectitude through parched gray and brown pictures of spooky frame houses, desiccated fields, deserted beaches, circling buzzards and craggy-faced New Englanders.
A virtual Rorschach test for American culture during the better part of the last century, Mr. Wyeth split public opinion as vigorously as any other American painter, including the other modern Andy, Warhol, whose milieu was as urban as Mr. Wyeth’s was rural.
Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Mr. Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject. Arguments about his work extended beyond painting to societal splits along class, geographical and educational lines. One art historian, in response to a 1977 survey in Art News magazine about the most underrated and overrated artists of the century, nominated Mr. Wyeth for both categories.
Critics mostly heaped abuse on his work, saying he gave realism a bad name. Supporters said he spoke to the silent majority who jammed his shows. “In today’s scrambled-egg school of art, Mr. Wyeth stands out as a wild-eyed radical,” one journalist wrote in 1963. “For the people he paints wear their noses in the usual place, and the weathered barns and bare-limbed trees in his starkly simple landscapes are more real than reality.”
John Updike took up the same cause 25 years later: “In the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, the scorn was simple gallery politics; but resistance to Wyeth remains curiously stiff in an art world that has no trouble making room for Photorealists like Richard Estes and Philip Pearlstein and graduates of commercial art like Wayne Thiebaud, Andy Warhol and, for that matter, Edward Hopper.”
A minority opinion within the art world tried to reconcile Mr. Wyeth with mainstream modernism. It was occasionally argued that his work had an abstract component and was linked to the gestural style of artists like Kline, de Kooning and Pollock, for whom Mr. Wyeth expressed general disdain.
It is true that especially some of the early watercolors of the 1930s and ’40s inclined toward abstraction. Contrary to what detractors and some supporters said, his style vacillated over the years, which suited neither those who wanted to say he stayed in a rut nor those who championed him as a model, as one art historian put it, “of continuity and permanence in the face of the instabilities and uncertainties of modern life.”
Until his later years, Mr. Wyeth remained a polarizing figure, even as the traditional 20th-century distinction between abstraction and avant-gardism on the one hand, and realism and conservatism on the other, came to seem woefully inadequate and false. The only indisputable truth was that his art existed within a diverse American context that encompassed illustrators like his father, N. C. Wyeth, and Norman Rockwell, and also landscape painters like John Marin, Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt and Fitz Hugh Lane.
One picture, “Christina’s World,” encapsulated his fame, becoming as iconic as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” or Whistler’s portrait of his mother or Emmanuel Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Mr. Wyeth said he thought the work was “a complete flat tire” when he sent it off to the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan in 1948. The Museum of Modern Art bought it for $1,800.
Mr. Wyeth had seen Christina Olson, disabled from the waist down, dragging herself across a Maine field, “like a crab on a New England shore,” he recalled. To him she was a model of dignity who refused to use a wheelchair and preferred to live in squalor rather than be beholden to anyone. It was dignity of a particularly dour, hardened, misanthropic sort, to which Mr. Wyeth seemed to gravitate. Ms. Olson is shown in the picture from the back. She was 55 at the time. (She died 20 years later, having become a frequent subject in his art; her death made the national news.)
It is impossible to tell her age in the painting or what she looks like, the ambiguity adding to the mystery. So does the house, which Mr. Wyeth called a dry-bone skeleton of a building, a symbol during the Depression of the American pastoral dream in a minor key, the house’s whitewash of paint long gone, its shingles warped, the place isolated against a blank sky. As popular paintings go, “Christina’s World” is remarkable for being so dark and humorless, yet the public seemed to focus less on its gothic and morose quality and more on the way Mr. Wyeth painted each blade of grass, a mechanical kind of realism that was distinctive if only for going against the tide of abstraction.
“Oftentimes people will like a picture I paint because it’s maybe the sun hitting on the side of a window and they can enjoy it purely for itself,” he said. “It reminds them of some afternoon. But for me, behind that picture could be a night of moonlight when I’ve been in some house in Maine, a night of some terrible tension, or I had this strange mood. Maybe it was Halloween. It’s all there, hiding behind the realistic side.”
Nonetheless, the perception of Mr. Wyeth’s art as an alternative to abstraction accounted for much of its mid-century popularity. Added to this was his personality. Self-theatricalizing — his biographer, Richard Meryman, described him as a “closet showman” — Mr. Wyeth was not a bohemian, or at least he behaved contrary to the cliché of the bohemian artist. He was also a vocal patriot, which dovetailed with a general sense that his art evoked a mythic rural past embedded in the American psyche. “America’s absolutely it,” he once said.
Never mind that he painted mostly bleak portraits of a barren country. He stayed in the public imagination for nostalgic paintings like “Young America,” from 1950, of a boy cycling across a plain, which Mr. Wyeth, in an interview in Time magazine, related to “the plains of the Little Bighorn and Custer and Daniel Boone and a lot of other things.” In later years, the press took note of when he voted for Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan, not because he was outspoken in his political views but because he differed in those views from other artists who were outspoken.
Bucking the liberal art establishment, and making a fortune in the process, allowed Mr. Wyeth to play familiar American roles: the reactionary anti-establishmentarian and the free-thinking individualist who at the same time represented the vox populi. A favorite saying of his was: “What you have to do is break all the rules.” And as bohemianism itself became institutionalized, Mr. Wyeth encapsulated the artistic conservatives’ paradoxical idea of disobedience through traditional behavior.
An Artist’s Roots
Admirers made a point of tracing Mr. Wyeth’s roots deep into the American past, to Nicholas Wyeth, who emigrated from England to Cambridge, Mass., in 1645. Wyeths died fighting in the French and Indian War. Andrew Newell Wyeth III was born on July 12, 1917, in Chadds Ford, the fifth child of Carolyn and Newell Convers Wyeth, the great illustrator.
N. C. Wyeth, famous for his blood-and-thunder magazine illustrations, posters, advertisements and illustrations for “Treasure Island,” “Robin Hood” and “Robinson Crusoe,” which sold in the millions of copies, became a role model, teacher and inevitable point of comparison in Andrew’s pursuit of his own career as an artist. The situation repeated itself a generation later when Andrew’s son Jamie followed his father as an artist.
N. C. was a big, energetic man remembered by his children as a kindly tyrant. He created a hothouse environment in which Andrew, a frail, often sickly boy, was taught at home. Andrew’s life was both sheltered and obsessively focused. He learned to be a proficient draftsman before he learned to read well. By his teens, he was doing illustrations under his father’s name. But he resisted the goal that his father had for him, of becoming an illustrator.
“Pa kept me almost in a jail,” Mr. Wyeth recalled.” By the 1920s, N. C. Wyeth had become a celebrity visited by other celebrities like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Mary Pickford. The insularity, the familial competition, the theatrical personalities around the house, the atmosphere of commercial success and popular fame with its taint of artistic compromise, the presumption that realistic representation was intrinsically a virtue: all these factors shaped Andrew Wyeth’s life and evolution.
While he admired his father’s intensity, his imagery differed from his father’s. N. C.’s work was full of action and drama. Andrew’s work often had no people in it. 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 drying in the breeze: images of absence, silence, loss, abandonment, desolation but also expectation. One of his famous paintings was a God’s-eye view of turkey buzzards. Another showed an empty dory on a beach with a swallow swooping past.
He liked the idea that figures might be implicit in the image. He suggested that “Christina’s World” might have been better had he “painted just that field and have you sense Christina without her being there.”
Mr. Wyeth said he was intrigued by the combination of cozy domesticity at the Kuerners’ and the knowledge that Karl had gunned down soldiers. One portrait of Karl shows him cradling a rifle. It was done in a room at the house with a moose rack on the wall. Wyeth recalled that while he was painting, Anna walked into the room to summon her husband to dinner, and that the barrel of the rifle was pointing at her. He quickly rubbed out the antlers and painted her in. Mr. Wyeth’s wife, Betsy, later titled it “America’s Sweethearts.”
Mr. Wyeth described several other portraits of Karl as surrogate portraits of N. C. His father died in 1945 along with a grandson, Newell, the 4-year-old son of N. C.’s son Nathaniel and daughter-in-law Caroline, when their car stalled on a railroad crossing and was struck by a train. Mr. Wyeth linked the event to such metaphoric pictures as “Winter,” of 1945.
The young Mr. Wyeth’s hero, after his father, was Winslow Homer. He saw Homer’s watercolors in the early 1930s. At the time, he was painting laborers and landscapes in ways that related to American scene painters like Thomas Hart Benton and John Steuart Curry. Soon he began emulating Homer’s impressionistic watercolors. He moved to Maine, made a pilgrimage to Homer’s studio at Prout’s Neck, and the vigorous, shimmering watercolors he began to paint aspired to Homer’s fleeting effects of light and movement.
Mr. Wyeth first showed the watercolors at the Art Alliance of Philadelphia in 1936. His father picked the works. The next year, through an associate of his father’s, the Macbeth Gallery in New York gave him his first one-man show, which sold out. Mr. Wyeth made $500.
At the same time, he began to work in egg tempera, a technique that appealed to his fastidious and traditional side, with its dry, chalky, ghostly effects. His father was skeptical about the medium, but Mr. Wyeth was encouraged to pursue it by a strong-willed 17-year-old woman he met in 1939 in Maine.
Betsy James grew up picking nasturtiums from Christina Olson’s garden and playing in the Olsons’ ice-house. On meeting Mr. Wyeth, she took him to see the Olson house. “I wanted to see if he would go in,” she recounted. “A lot of people wouldn’t — the smell, the odor — and this was a summer day.”
They were married in 1940, and Betsy became his business manager and as strong an influence on him as his father, with whom she often battled for Andrew’s favor. “I was part of a conspiracy to dethrone the king — the usurper of the throne,” she told Mr. Meryman, Mr. Wyeth’s biographer. “And I did. I put Andrew on the throne.”
Mrs. Wyeth oversaw the publication of illustrated books, started a reproduction business, produced a film documentary about Mr. Wyeth and created a Wyeth archive. Over the years she also annoyed critics, who thought she had manipulated Mr. Wyeth’s image inappropriately, an impression underscored by remarks like, “I’m a director and I had the greatest actor in the world.”
Mr. Wyeth is survived by Mrs. Wyeth, as well as his son Jamie; another son, Nicholas, an art dealer in Maine; and a granddaughter.
After “Christina’s World” Mr. Wyeth’s fame skyrocketed. In 1949, Winston Churchill asked for Wyeth watercolors to decorate his room at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. Harvard gave Mr. Wyeth an honorary degree in 1955. He made the cover of Time in 1963, when President Lyndon B. Johnson gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He painted portraits of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nixon. A show of his work toured the country in 1966 and 1967, attracting huge crowds at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Whitney Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago. The Brandywine River Museum opened in 1971, its main attraction a collection of Wyeths donated by Mrs. Wyeth. In 1976, Mr. Wyeth was given a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum.
The Helga Pictures
In 1986, Leonard E. B. Andrews, a publisher of newsletters, made front-page news when he reportedly spent $6 million for 240 paintings by Mr. Wyeth that had never been exhibited. They were pictures of a woman, nude and clothed, named Helga Testorf. She was a sturdy, blond married mother of four, a postwar refugee from Germany who worked as a housemaid for Mr. Wyeth’s eccentric sister Carolyn in Chadds Ford. Mr. Wyeth had been painting her in a room at the Kuerner house for more than a decade, without his wife’s knowledge, Mrs. Wyeth said, before the works became known. When asked what the pictures were about, Mrs. Wyeth fueled prurient speculation by saying, “love.”
Big money, the implication of sex and Mr. Wyeth’s celebrity propelled Helga onto the covers of Time and Newsweek. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, which rarely organized shows of living artists, leapt to do an exhibition of the Helga pictures in 1987. The catalog became a best seller.
Mr. Andrews turned around and sold the works and a few others to a Japanese collector, reportedly for $45 million, capitalizing on the publicity.
At that point, Mr. Wyeth denied there was ever any sexual relationship. Mrs. Wyeth explained that her “love” comment was meant only to suggest the creative frisson between artist and model and that in fact the works had not come as a surprise to her because she had seen a few of them before. At the same time, she said that most of them really had been kept secret from her — that they were her husband’s way of breaking loose from her.
Critics castigated the Wyeths and Mr. Andrews as hucksters. Mr. Wyeth responded by saying the critics “were just looking to bop me on the head.”
Later Wyeth exhibitions were comparatively low key, perhaps because an increasingly eclectic art world, which celebrated Norman Rockwell, had found space to accommodate painters like Mr. Wyeth. In later years, he became a familiar sight around Chadds Ford, driving his beat-up GMC Suburban with a sketch pad on the seat. He lost a lung, survived a near-fatal illness and had a hip operation, but he kept working, energized partly by disdain for his detractors. “I’m not going to let them disrupt my old age,” he said.
“I am an example of publicity — a great deal of it,” he also said. “I’m grateful because it gives me the freedom to go and try to do better. But I never had any great idea that these people are understanding what I’m doing. And they don’t.”