ANDREW NEWELL WYETH, PAINTER, July 12, 1917-January 16, 2009
Is Andrew Wyeth a Realist? A Regionalist? A painter of Rural American Life? A painter of Naturalism?
Though he has been described as all of these, the artist continues to elude being classified neatly into any
Andrew Newell Wyeth III was born on July 12, 1917. The youngest of five children of N.C. and Carolyn
Wyeth, Andrew was named after N.C.'s great grandfather. He began drawing at an early age, but was not
formally taught by his father until he was 15. His father began teaching Andrew academic art skills by
having him draw white spheres and cubes on a neutral background with charcoal. Andrew did studies of
the geometric forms, complete with accurate tone and shadows, for many months. He then studied the
skeleton until he was able to draw the entire skeleton accurately from memory. Although most of the
studio time with his father consisted of traditional academic drawing, Andrew also spent much time
exploring, observing, and drawing the country around his Chadd's Ford home with pencil and watercolor.
The family spent the summers in Port Clyde, Maine, where Andrew painted watercolor studies of the rocky
coast and the sea.
Andrew achieved success in his 1920's with watercolor shows at the Macbeth Gallery in New York, and
was featured on the cover of American Artist by age 25. He married Betsy James in 1940. They spent the
summers with the Wyeth family in Port Clyde, Maine, and rented the old schoolhouse studio from N.C. in
Chadd's Ford. They have two children: Nicholas, a successful art dealer, and James, a well-known artist.
Andrew Wyeth continues to work everyday in his home in Pennsylvania.
Andrew mainly uses pencil, watercolor with drybrush, and tempera. He once stated, "With watercolor, you
can pick up the atmosphere, the temperature, the sound of snow shifting through the trees or over the ice
of a small pond or against a windowpane. Watercolor perfectly expresses the free side of my nature."
(Hoving, p. 33)
The use of drybrush is used on top of the watercolor—layer upon layer like a weaving process. The
drybrush builds tone and adds fine detail and texture to the work. The artist Peter Hurd, a former student
of N.C. Wyeth, introduced the traditional medium of egg tempera to Andrew. Andrew loved the dryness of
the paint and the earthiness of the dried pigments. "My temperas are very broadly painted in the very
beginning. Then I tighten down on them. Tempera is, in a sense, like building, really building in great
layers," (Hoving, p. 34) he stated.
Two areas, the Olson farm in Maine and the Kuerner farm in Chadd's Ford, provided inspiration for many
of Wyeth's works. "Kuerner's was right over the hill from where I was born. I was intrigued by the fact that
Karl Kuerner was a soldier who fought in the German army and came to America right after the war,
became a hired farmer, and finally owned a farm. The abstract, almost military quality of that farm
originally appealed to me and still does. Everything is utilized," he said (Hoving, p. 39-40).
"I went to Maine when I was a very young boy with my father and mother. Through the Olsons', Cristina
and Alvero and their house, I really began to see New England as it really was-just the opposite to the
Kuerners. The world of New England was in that house overlooking the mouth of the Georges River"
(Hoving, p. 42).
About his painting, Wyeth said, "I go beyond the subject. That's the summation of my art. Emotion is my
bulwark. I think that's the only thing that endures finally. If you are emotionally involved, you're not going to
be easily changed. But if it's purely a technical experience that's going to be very short-lived. Both
technical and emotional have got to be on even terms to be good" (Hoving, p. 185).