"Painting has been my whole life, really, just simply painting."
Andrew Wyeth exhibited high levels of imagination and creativity and an acute sense of observation from a very young age. He was sickly as a child, and so he was tutored at home. As a result, he had a lot of free time in which to explore and create his own fantasy worlds in the landscape around his home in Chadds Ford. Always fascinated with military miniatures, Andrew often drew imagined battle scenes from various wars and periods of history, with detailed backgrounds, costumes and weaponry.
In 1932, when Andrew Wyeth was 15, his father decided it was time to begin formal training with his son. N.C. introduced Andrew to the fundamentals of art by first having him repeatedly draw cubes, cones and spheres. Then, drawings of still lifes and plaster casts followed. N.C. Wyeth's studio was fully equipped with many props and objects that offered endless subject matter for Andrew's student work. Finally, at age 17, Andrew Wyeth began to painting under the tutelage of his father. N.C. chose oils as an introduction to painting for his son.
Also in 1932, on one of his boyhood walks, Andrew Wyeth discovered the nearby farm of Karl and Anna Kuerner. Wyeth was intrigued by Kuerner, a German immigrant and World War I veteran, and developed a close relationship with him over the years. The farm, its animals, buildings and landscapes inspired hundreds of works of art by Andrew Wyeth for more than 75 years.
The Wyeths spent the summer months in Maine. Andrew Wyeth's watercolor landscapes and seascapes met with enormous critical acclaim at his one-man show at the William Macbeth Gallery in New York City in 1937. An exceedingly self-critical artist, this immediate success did not reassure him. Feeling that his work was too facile, he returned to his father's studio for further concentration on technique.
Wyeth soon began working in egg tempera, a technique introduced to him by his brother-in-law, the painter Peter Hurd. Tempera involves mixing both egg yolks and powdered pigments with distilled water. Its consistency resembles that of toothpaste. Wyeth said that tempera forced him to slow down the execution of a painting and enabled him to achieve the superb textural effects that distinguish his work. His other media were watercolor and drybrush watercolor.
In 1940 Wyeth married Betsy James, whom he had met the previous summer. It was Betsy who introduced Wyeth to her long-time friend Christina Olson, who had been crippled by degenerative illness that limited her physical mobility. She became his model for many works of art, including Christina's World.
Wyeth's life went through a major turning point after his father's death in 1945. His work took on a newfound seriousness, and he began to paint portraits.
After the death of Christina Olson, Wyeth found a rebirth with the youth of Siri Erickson, the daughter of a Maine neighbor. The paintings of young Siri were a direct contrast with those of Christina, which symbolized deterioration. Andrew Wyeth used many models, people he knew well, repeatedly throughout his career. Wyeth continued to paint until his death in 2009.
The Andrew Wyeth Gallery is located on the third floor of the Brandywine River Museum. The museum's permanent collection of his works includes Pennsylvania Landscape, Raccoon and Roasted Chestnuts. The museum is also fortunate to be able to exhibit several pieces from the private collection of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth, such as Snow Hill and Night Sleeper.
Wyeth received many awards during his lifetime. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy named Wyeth the first artist to receive the Presidential Freedom Award, the country's highest civilian award. In 1970, he was the first living artist to have an exhibition at the White House. Wyeth's other tributes include the gold medal for painting from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, several painting and watercolor awards, and numerous honorary degrees. In 1977 he made his first trip to Europe to be inducted into the French Academy of the Fine Arts, becoming the only American artist since John Singer Sargent to be admitted to the Academy. The Soviet Academy of the Arts elected him an honorary member in 1978. He also received the Congressional Gold Medal and the National Medal of Arts.
One-artist exhibitions of his work routinely broke attendance records at major museums, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia; the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco. His work was also exhibited at museums throughout the world, including the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo; the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and the Palazzo Reale in Milan, among many other museums. He was the first living American artist to have an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. An exhibition of his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006 drew 177,000 visitors in 15_ weeks, the highest-ever attendance at the museum for a living artist.
His work is included in many major American museums, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the National Gallery of Art, as well as the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.