We are all fortunate to have been artists during Andrew Wyeth’s long and productive career. He was a beacon for representational artists who needed a guiding light to navigate the rocky waters of contemporary art, a stalwart supporter of his friends and family members, a proud student of America who learned the lessons of its history, and a strong man who heard the voices of both his detractors and supporters. When he died on January 16, 2009, we all lost a painter who inspired us and allowed us to see the world through his sharply focused and deeply personal vision.
I had the honor of corresponding with and visiting Mr. Wyeth, or “Andy” as he always insisted. What impressed me most about the man who was among the wealthiest, most decorated, and most well-known artists of our time was the simple but solid set of principles by which he lived his life and pursued his career. When he drove me around his home and property in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania three years ago, it was clear he was proudest of being able to support his family as a full-time artist; to honor the achievements of his father, siblings, and sons; to use his wealth and influence to preserve the historic land around his home; and to be blessed with the love and support of his wife, Betsy James Wyeth.
In some ways, Mr. Wyeth was like every other artist I have interviewed. He remembered his first two gallery exhibitions in Boston when none of the watercolors sold; he still felt the pain of criticism about his work, most especially about his masterpiece Christina’s World and the Helga drawings and paintings; he enjoyed the company of other artists; he felt awkward at gallery and museum openings; and he didn’t like people treating him like a celebrity.
But there was one very clear distinction between Mr. Wyeth and every other painter profiled in American Artist. He proved to generations of artists that there was a place in the art world for representational drawings and paintings; and he demonstrated that such work could include content that was personal, worthy of critical attention, and connected to the history of art.
I invite you to share your comments about the ways Mr. Wyeth’s art and life may have influenced you. I’m sure his neighbors, friends, family members, and admirers would appreciate reading your remarks.