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In 1950, Andrew Wyeth completed a large, dark, and unsettling painting of three vultures flying above the Pennsylvania countryside (Fig.1). He called the work Soaring. The product of an unusually long and somewhat tumultuous creative gestation, this magisterial view of scavengers in flight preoccupied the painter for the better part of a decade—a period that not only witnessed his emergence as an artist of national reputation but also coincided with the rise of a new morality brought about by the horrors of World War II and the pervasive tensions of the Cold War. Although Wyeth abandoned the effort more than once, the final painting is today recognized as an early landmark in a long and influential career. Like many of Wyeth’s best efforts—the contemporaneous Christina’s World of 1948 is but one example—Soaring is both accessible and ambiguous. It is elliptical to the point of being ominous. As a representational drama in an era that prized abstraction, the painting is an outlier that rewards close observation for what it reveals about mid-century American visual culture.

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The Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, VT has organized an exhibition that explores the use of extreme perspectives, unconventional angles and powerful narratives in works by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), his son, Andrew (1917-2009) and Andrew’s son, Jamie (b. 1946). Wyeth Vertigo presents nearly 40 works from one of the most influential families in modern American art.

Highlights include the Shelburne’s own monumental painting by Andrew Wyeth, Soaring (1942-1950), and 39 works on loan from institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts as well as from private collections including those of the Wyeth family. Thomas Denenberg, The Shelburne Museum’s director and co-curator of the show, said, “The exhibition expands our understanding of the work of each Wyeth, while tracing a key theme that unifies the generations. Imaginative, playful, thoughtful, somber – at times even magical, the work of the Wyeths tells the story of twentieth-century America.”

Wyeth Vertigo will be on view at the Shelburne Museum through October 31, 2013 and is complemented by an exhibition catalogue published by the University Press of New England.

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