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Who is Andrew Wyeth?

Dan Cavallari
By Dan Cavallari
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Andrew Wyeth was a 20th century American painter who was born in 1917 and lived to the age of 91. Known for his realistic artwork, he focused on landscapes and portraits inspired by neighbors he met on properties in Pennsylvania and Maine. He ran against the trend of abstract painting and was accused of being nothing more than an illustrator, but his fans loved his work.

Some of his more striking works deal with the tension between domestic or pastoral scenes and what is unknown by the viewer about the actors in those scenes. In “America’s Sweethearts,” he painted his neighbor, a former German soldier, pointing a gun at his wife in the comfort of his home. The situation that led to this tableau was less sinister than the painting suggests. His neighbor’s wife had simply entered the room to call her husband to dinner.

Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Christina’s World,” also plays with that tension. Painted in 1948, it shows a woman in a pale pink dress sprawled out in a vast field with her back to the viewer. She appears to be reaching for home, a decaying farmhouse on the distant horizon. In reality, Christina was Andrew Wyeth’s neighbor in Maine and was unable to walk as a result of an unknown illness. The painting can be seen in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Andrew Wyeth also created a stunning series of paintings and drawings using his neighbor, Helga Testorf, as his model. In these paintings, Andrew Wyeth carefully depicts how light shapes a woman’s body. Over a period of fourteen years, he created a collection of over 240 works featuring her, her hair, or a simple curve in her body. Similar to other paintings of his old muse Christina, Andrew Wyeth seemed to turn the features of Helga’s body into a landscape. This collection was shown in its entirety in the late 1980s but has since been divided. Pieces from the series can be viewed in a number of different galleries and museums.

Many of his critics claim that Andrew Wyeth was simply a populist, able to connect only to uneducated working classes who appreciated his ability to portray a blade of grass more than any meaning that might be found in the image. This was, of course, in complete contrast to his contemporaries, but Wyeth continued to paint his largely depopulated, somewhat bleak scenes up until the end of his life.

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Discussion Comments

By andee — On Mar 24, 2012

I have never appreciated the Helga paintings, but there are other pieces of Andrew Wyeth artwork, that I find quite interesting.

Since I have horses and love to ride them and spend time with them, I am always captivated by a good horse painting. He has more than one painting that has a horse in it, and even though the colors are a bit dull, I find the details very real.

I would love to have a reproduction of one of his paintings. I read that one of his horse paintings sold for over 4 million dollars. That is incredible when you think how much his whole collection would be worth.

By julies — On Mar 24, 2012

@Mykol - There are a few of his paintings that are not quite so bleak. I have an Andrew Wyeth poster that is from his Maypole painting.

This particular Andrew Wyeth tempera was in celebration of his 70th birthday. My understanding was it took him two years to complete.

In this painting, a group of children are dancing around the maypole in the snow. Knowing the part of the country where he completed most of his paintings, having snow like this the first of May is very possible.

The maypole has a Christmas tree on the top, and there is a little bit of color in the ribbons the children are holding on to as they dance around the pole.

Maybe it's because I have fond memories of Mayday, but whenever I look at this painting, it brings a smile to my face.

By Mykol — On Mar 23, 2012

I have never been a big fan of Andrew Wyeth paintings, simply because I love bold, bright colors. None of his paintings I have seen really have much color, and I find them very dismal and bleak.

My house is also decorated in bright, cheerful colors so his paintings would not match my decor at all. I like to look at things that are cheerful and give me a lift.

When I see an Andrew Wyeth painting, I usually feel just the opposite.

By orangey03 — On Mar 23, 2012

Andrew Wyeth's Helga collection was done in a sneaky manner. I read that he didn't even tell his wife that he was painting Helga, and no one even knew it until he had finished all the paintings!

I imagine she would have been pretty upset to walk in and see her lying there while her husband studied her every curve. I know I would be furious if my husband did that!

Though I'm not a fan of his Helga paintings, I must say that his other works astound me. He had a way of capturing light that made his artwork come to life. It seems impossible that someone could achieve this degree of lighting perfection in a painting.

By kylee07drg — On Mar 22, 2012

Artistic talent ran in Andrew Wyeth's family. His dad did a lot of illustrating in his career, and his work could be found in calendars, posters, and magazines at the time.

So, it was only natural that Andrew would begin painting at a young age. When you have a special talent like this, it often emerges early in life and only gets better with time.

I studied art history in college, and I learned that Andrew was sick a lot as a kid. It is pretty amazing that he overcame his physical weakness and lived to his nineties. Maybe being sick at such a young age strengthened his body somehow.

By StarJo — On Mar 21, 2012

@OeKc05 – I know what you mean about the bleak coloring of the print. I have seen another Andrew Wyeth print with the same grayish-brown quality.

I read that he was influenced by a painter named Thomas Eakins who used the same tones in his paintings. You can really tell it by browsing through his various works.

My friend has a print of the Andrew Wyeth work titled “Squall.” It is also full of gray tones, but a yellow raincoat provides a bold splash of color. Otherwise, you might think it was a black and white photograph!

By OeKc05 — On Mar 21, 2012

I have an Andrew Wyeth print hanging in my beach house. It is a depiction of a lighthouse and a white picket fence, and the whole thing is done in browns and grays.

On the surface, it looks rather dismal. However, I am enchanted by the degree of his realism. He puts in every single detail, and it is hard to believe I am not looking at a photograph.

This print reminds me of the gray, overcast days on the shore where I vacation. It's like I have taken the outdoors and put them inside that little frame.

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