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Thursday, 20 December 2012 04:07

Wyeth World: Three Generations of Wyeths

The saga of the Wyeth family stands out as unique in the history of American art. No other family has produced nationally significant painters in three successive generations. The work of all three painters of the Wyeth family is now featured in a major exhibition at the Tyler Museum of Art in Tyler, Texas—the first museum exhibition in Texas since 1987 to feature the three generations of Wyeths and only includes works drawn from private and public collections within the state.

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“I am working so please do not disturb,” reads the block-lettered placard. “I do not sign autographs.”

This warning hangs on the door of an unassuming white clapboard house in Chadds Ford, Pa. It’s the house where Andrew Wyeth worked for nearly seven decades, producing many of the paintings that made him known as “America’s artist.” This summer, for the first time since his death in 2009 at 91, the studio is open for visitors.

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A century after N.C. Wyeth's illustrations of the pirates and scalawags of "Treasure Island" first appeared, the iconic images considered the definitive version of the classic tale are reunited for the first time since their completion.

The Brandywine Museum has reassembled them in a new exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of Wyeth's "Treasure Island" and the 40th anniversary of the museum, not far from an old carriage house where Wyeth created the 17 large oils on canvas for publishing house Charles Scribner's Sons. The only painting not in the exhibit was destroyed in a fire in 1952.

Scribner's displayed the paintings in their New York bookstore and sold several, but the bulk of the paintings are owned either by the museum or the Wyeth family.

The New York Public Library owns two, one is in private hands and one is owned by the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut.

"From his correspondence, we found that these paintings were done in about 3 1/2 months, which is an incredibly rapid pace," curator Christine Podmaniczky said.

"He didn't make drawings of everything first, worked spontaneously right on the canvas." Robert Louis Stevenson's 1883 book was already a favorite of readers and critics when the story was published with Wyeth's illustrations in 1911.

Where earlier editions typically featured basic line drawings to illustrate the coming-of-age adventure, Wyeth's spirited and colorful depictions of Long John Silver, Jim Hawkins, Billy Bones and company became an instant hit.

The first print run of about 10,000 copies quickly sold out. The book's success marked the start of a long relationship between Wyeth and Scribner's that led to a popular series of Wyeth-illustrated children's classics.

Scribner's paid $2,500 for "Treasure Island," which Wyeth used to buy 18 picturesque acres along the Brandywine River Valley.

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Intrigued by pigs? Not many of us are, but in the steady eyes and paint brush of Jamie Wyeth, pigs are one of God’s most enchanting creations.

Take the 2,200-pound porker Den-Den who one day ransacked Wyeth’s painting station on the Ball Farm near his home in Chadds Ford. Snorting wildly, she appeared at a corner of the barn, her snout plastered with cerulean blue, cadmium orange and lemon yellow. Den-Den had just swallowed 22 tubes of oil paint.

“The next day I arrived in the morning and I was expecting to find a corpse,” Wyeth recalled with a laugh. “She was perfectly fine, snorting away, and of course, all these rainbow color droppings were everywhere.”

Months later Den-Den was ticketed to the local butcher. Wyeth thought, “My God I can’t have that.” So he took her to live at his Point Lookout farm where she became the infamous subject of his life-size “Portrait of Pig.”

Wyeth’s love for animals is quite evident in the artist’s new show “Farm Work” on display at the Brandywine River Museum through Sept. 11. It is a cracker of an exhibition, encompassing so much of the artist’s personality, humor, wit and sense of wonder. The extensive collection surveys four decades of a mix of farm animals, equipment, buildings and landscapes at Wyeth and his wife Phyllis’ farm on the Brandywine River as well as his farm on Southern Island off the coast of Maine.

No ‘Farmer in the Dell’

His first exhibition to focus exclusively on this subject, the show includes over 70 works drawn from private and public collections across the country.

“I stay away from the cuteness, the ‘Farmer in the Dell’ thing,” Wyeth explained. “There is a definite life span on a farm. It’s reality. I try to capture the animal on the move, not getting the animal frozen. I really do get a sense of who the animal is.

“I always said that if born in New York, I would be painting cabs or something, but it happens that I was raised in an area where there were farms. There are wonderful objects on the farm and things about farm life, so that is where the attraction is.”

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