The Passing of an American Artist

On January 16th 2009 Andrew Wyeth died, at the age of 91, in his sleep. 

Andrew Wyeth is one of the most well-known American artists of all time. His works were both loved and loathed because of their accessibility to the public. He was a realist painter which lead to his popularity in the U.S. (we ‘mericans don’t like things too ‘artsy’ ’round here. see also: Hemingway) but also was the main fuel for his detractors who referred to him simply as an ‘illustrator’

If you’re not familiar with Andrew Wyeth please click here here and here to learn more about him.

I was first introduced to the works of Wyeth a few years ago (don’t ask how long ago, I’m not good with time) when my wife, Kim, and I were flipping through the fine art prints at Michaels Crafts in Milford, CT. We had a newly bare wall and were looking for something to adorn it. As we’re flipping through hundreds of the prints at opposite ends of the bin I paused when I came across a haunting image of a woman lying in the middle of a field, wearing a pink dress, propping herself up with her right arm. Her face is obscured as she is looking away and across the field at a large, dark house on the horizon. Her left arm is extended and her hand is in the grass. Immediately this painting struck me. Who was this woman? Why is she in this field? Did she just wake up? Does she know where she is? Did she take a nap in the field? Is she happy? Sad? Despite the haunting feeling of the painting, the woman in the field seems to belong where she is. There were so many question that this painting raised as I stood there looking at it. It sucked me in. I should have pulled it from the bin at that point, but there were so many other prints to look at I noted the location of this one and continued to flip through. 

After awhile I met up with Kim at another end of the bins and watched as she flipped through the prints, until she paused. She stopped on an interesting painting of a  dog sleeping on a bed. The room is plain and grey and none too inviting yet the dog looks perfectly comfortable sleeping deeply near the head of the bed. This painting, titled ‘Master Bedroom’ by an artist named Andrew Wyeth, captured the same essence as the woman in the field.

We separated again as we looked through the bins of Van Goghs and Picassos and Munchs, Dalis and Hoppers. After awhile I finished looking through the prints and went to find Kim. There she was standing at the first bin staring at Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Christina’s World’, the painting of the woman in the field. The painting that I had spent minutes staring at and my entire time there thinking about. The painting that chose us.

Later that night I hung ‘Christina’s World’ on the wall above our couch. And have seen it there everyday since. For years I have contemplated the story behind it. To me the woman looks young, her faded lobster-shell dress a striking pink against the grey sky, brown field and black house. What was she doing there? this painting held some sort of mystical power in its perfect proportion, detail and unanswered questions. I knew nothing of the artist until Kim and I vacationed in Port Clyde, Maine years afterward. 

My brother invited us to a long weekend at a cottage in Port Clyde, Maine. We’d spend the holiday gorging on lobster and visiting the lighthouse from ‘Forrest Gump’. During the drive to Port Clyde, as we got closer and closer, to our destination we began to see signs boasting “Andrew Wyeth” prints at many of the roadside country shops. It seemed that Andrew Wyeth was quite popular in this area of the country. I can’t remember exactly how we discovered it, maybe a AAA Travel Guide or maybe a tourist pamphlet from a convenience store but during the drive Kim started reading about the Andrew Wyeth connection to the area. Cushing, Maine, a town neighboring Port Clyde had become his second home when he split time between there and Chadds Ford, PA. We also discovered that the area has an Andrew Wyeth museum, we would definitely make sure to take some time to visit.  

The last day that we were in Port Clyde we went to the Andrew Wyeth museum in Rockland. If I remember correctly there were two separate museums, one dedicated solely to the Wyeth family and one with a Wyeth specific exhibition of early works, primarily water colors, as well as some of his other works displayed among other paintings. The museums are within walking distance of each other and were a wonderful experience. Prints, pictures and on-line images can never capture the true beauty of an actual work of art so seeing some of his paintings in person was really breathtaking. While at the museum we discovered that the very house where ‘Christina’s World’ was painted was nearby, in Cushing, ME. We got directions to the house and drove, drawn by the same energy that originally drew us to the print we hung years before. 

Walking through the rooms where Wyeth had painted while living with Christina Olson and her brother Alvaro was a truly emotional experience. Something about the rooms, being in the actual locations that were the settings for so many of Wyeth’s paintings is very affecting. So much so that the attendants at the house carry boxes of tissues around. It is a common experience for people to spontaneously begin crying.

Unfortunately ‘Christina’s World’ is not hanging in the museums at Rockland but it can be found at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. One of my goals this year is to see it in person. 

Having visited the physical location where ‘Christina’s World’ was painted and where the painting is set, as well as learning the backstory behind the painting hasn’t reduced the mystery of it for me. I know the real world inspiration for it yet the painting stands alone, is a work by itself, full of stories and feelings and energy.

Andrew Wyeth, though he passed on yesterday will live on, immortally, through the energy of his work.

I do an awful lot of thinking and dreaming about things in the past and the future — the timelessness of the rocks and the hills — all the people who have existed there, I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape — the loneliness of it — the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn’t show. 

“I think anything like that — which is contemplative, silent, shows a person alone — people always feel is sad. Is it because we’ve lost the art of being alone?” – Andrew Wyeth

christinas_world.jpg

'Christina's World' by Andrew Wyeth

 

Kim outside of the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted.

Kim outside of the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted.

 

Me at the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted

Me at the Olson's house in Cushing, ME where 'Christina's World' was painted

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15 Responses to “The Passing of an American Artist”

  1. KC Says:

    Oh my gosh! I loved him, that was always one of my favorite paintings. Sad sad day in the art world.

  2. Abigail Says:

    “People always feel is sad. Is it because we’ve lost the art of being alone?”

    Thats beautiful! Seeing as I live in NYC, I must definitely go to the museum and check it out.

  3. nwrann Says:

    Abigail,

    If you do go to MoMa to see ‘Christina’s World” you have to make sure to see Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. I saw it this summer in New Haven and it truly is a piece to behold. Spiritual.

  4. Lauren Says:

    I’m not much of an art fan (visual that is), but ‘Christina’s world’ is of the few pieces I know by name. I do regret not delving more into Wyeth’s work, he will be missed.

  5. Jaime Says:

    I just re-discovered his paintings last summer. he captured reality. as it was. which did make people er..be like..”uh what?” you think when you see his work.
    you wrote a beautiful piece there (eulogy much? :P)

    PEACE & take care..

  6. Dana Says:

    I’m sorry to here that this artist passed away, he will be missed, but he will never be forgotten. I have never seen this painting. I like the part about “People always feel sad” Is it because we’re lost the art of being alone. Well, I don’t think a lot of people can stand being alone. That just gives you a lot to think about, this is a very abstract painting, and I’m probably going to be thinking about this all day long.

    It’s a beautiful painting though.

  7. Andrea Says:

    I love you for using WordPress and not Tumblr!

  8. Abigail Says:

    Will do! It sound so interesting! Thanks recommendation.

  9. Dee Says:

    that painting reminds me of an amazing and odd movie called Tideland.

  10. Molly Says:

    I remember seeing that painting when I went to the MoMa, and while reading this I knew exactly what painting it was. I also got the chance to see ‘Starry Night’. I just stood there and stared. I couldn’t believe I was looking at the real thing. Art is amazing.

  11. Sydney Says:

    Artists are amazing people- they are practically immortal. I envy that.
    The things they do with their lives are not only remembered, but there is a physical manifestation of what they thought and who they were left behind for people they’ve never even met to enjoy.

  12. Sarah Says:

    i love that painting. i just found it on google because i rarely go to museums and don`t like in an “artsy” neighborhood, so there isn`t much encouragement for paintings like this.
    i love maine. if it weren`t for how freezing it can get, i would definitley want to live there when i get older. well, i also don`t like being too far away from nyc.
    i really should stop talking about maine when everyone else here is on the topic at hand. sorry about my ramblings

  13. Denise Says:

    NWrann,

    I was so pleased you sent me the link to your new blog.

    It’s amazing how the people around us can be so inspiring and influential in our lives. I’m grateful for your beautiful wife, Kim, who introduced you to the wonderful work of Andre Wyeth. I am even more grateful that the people in your life have been able to encourage you to start this blog. They couldn’t be more correct in doing so. You are a fantastic writer to say the least.

    Your article today was just beautiful. Andrew Wyeth himself would have been moved by your sincere passion and eloquent details of his work. Every moment of your article was a true pleasure read.

    I thank you very much for joining the world of blogs. I am look forward to many more of your entries. You my friend are a true artist and inspiration as well.

    BRAVO!! BRAVO!! BRAVO!!

  14. ebean Says:

    That is so amazing that you actually visited the places where “Christina’s World” was painted!

  15. Dana Says:

    In the middle of this post, but that sounds like a good idea. Thanks for reminding me to never forget the importance of entertainment. I can relate because my blog, that I try to keep, gets so routine. I think you have given me an idea, nobody wants to read about my everyday routine, maybe if I meet someone that is interesting, like meeting an artist.

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