Andrew Wyeth is known today as an American master, a realist painter with a genius for capturing the land and the people he knew.
But back in 1943, the 26-year-old Wyeth was still doing illustrations for magazines. One of his paintings graced our cover in October of that year. He would have been aware that his father, N.C. Wyeth, had painted several Post covers back in the 1900s.
While N.C. gained a national reputation for his illustrations, Andrew went on to become a fine artist, best known for his 1948 painting, Christina’s World, one of the best known mid-century American paintings, depicting a woman lying on the ground in a treeless, mostly tawny field, looking up at a gray house on the horizon.
A proponent of regionalist, realist style, Wyeth is associated with the prestigious Brandywine School, which also was the artistic home of Howard Pyle, Frank Schoonover, Harvey Dunn, and Clifford Ashley, among many other artists and illustrators.
Wyeth was the youngest child in a talented family and led a sheltered childhood. His father gave Andrew the only art instruction he ever received. He also gave him the advice to trust his artistic instinct and not to paint for recognition or approval.
It was good advice in light of the harsh criticism he faced. His 1987 National Gallery exhibition of his portraits of Helga Testorf was roundly attacked by critics.
One reviewer wrote that Wyeth’s paintings were lifeless, with no intrinsic value, and that he was incapable of creating the magic found in all great art.
Yet, like Norman Rockwell, Wyeth remains extremely popular with the public, despite the critics. His “Christina’s World” is the painting most visitors to the Museum of Modern Art ask to see.
This disagreement between the critics’ and the public’s opinion of Wyeth is so wide, one art critic called Wyeth the most overrated and underrated artist of the 20th century.
If some art critics take issue with Wyeth, he is still hugely popular with the public for his evocative, atmospheric landscapes and his realism.
This article from the Post, covering the opening of the Brandywine River Museum, offers paintings from three generations of Wyeths: Andrew (1917–2009), father Newell Convers (1882–1945) and son James (b. July 6, 1946).
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