Right now I feel completely overwhelmed by the quality of Wyeth’s work which combines a distilled simplicity with extraordinary detail. This is a painter who was an absolute master of what to include and what to leave out. His work is sometimes called magical realism; there is a mystery to his pictures that leaves the viewer thinking and wondering about the context and story behind the image. And there are stories about his subjects that are both fascinating and surprising.
I cannot do justice to Wyeth in a quick blog post but I was lucky enough in my research to discover that the BBC recently broadcast an hour-long documentary entitled Michael Palin in Wyeth’s World. It is no longer available on I-Player but I did find it on You Tube. It is an absolutely entrancing exploration of Wyeth’s long life, prolific work and inspirations.
Wyeth’s work is narrowly focused on some key places and people that inspired him including The Olson’s Farm in Maine, New England where he painted what is probably his most well known work: Christina’s World.
The woman crawling through the tawny grass is the farmer’s daughter, Christina Olson who, crippled by polio, “was limited physically but by no means spiritually,” explained Wyeth. “The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.” He recorded the arid landscape, rural house, and shacks with great detail, painting minute blades of grass, individual strands of hair, and nuances of light and shadow.
It is interesting to see how Wyeth makes his own rules with regards to aerial perspective; distant objects are not necessarily less distinct. He seems to choose which objects or figures to bring into sharper focus regardless of whether they are near or far as a way of communicating meaning to the viewer.
Wyeth painted more than 300 works over 30 summers from a studio in The Olson’s Farmhouse.
He also painted many hundreds of pictures of rural farm scenes and people around his home in Chadd’s Ford Pennsylvannia. The largest collection of his work is in the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadd’s Ford – something of a pilgrimage for Wyeth lovers and I think I’ve become one!
Then there are the 250 works he secretly painted of Helga Testorf… there is so much to this artist.
I have made much more extensive notes in my sketchbook and hopefully will find the time in the not too distant future to write these up for my blog. In the meantime, these are some links to just a few of his works.
Wind from the Sea, 1947 (tempera on hardboard) – this picture was painted from the Olson Farmhouse; Wyeth waited for two months for the wind to be blowing in the right direction to finish the painting.
Turkey Pond, 1944 – this painting is one of Wyeth’s friends as a young man striding through long grass towards a pond. Wyeth’s father who was a celebrated painter of historical scenes, suggested to him that the figure needed to have a gun in his hands and there should be some dogs. It is undoubtedly the absence of these kinds of extras that makes Wyeth’s art so different and so very poignant.