Remembering Andrew Wyeth, a Great Artist Who Inspired Us

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.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

10 thoughts on “Remembering Andrew Wyeth, a Great Artist Who Inspired Us

  1. Even though some dismissed him as an illustrator, his place in art history is assured. I wonder how many “painters” from our time will be discussed in the coming centuries?

    The handful of artists from the past centuries, whose work is discussed and used for teaching purposes, seem to be considered the greatest of their time.

    I think his work will be among that handful.

  2. Mr. Wyeth is absolutely one of my favorite painters of all time. I loved his style of painting and the simple subject matters he made so dramatic. I could stare at his work for hours and get lost in the painting, whether I was thinking about the technique he used or wondering about his chosen subject. So many of his portraits were portals to depths of emotion that lay just below the surface. He is up there on the list of artists that inspired me to begin painting. I wanted to be able to emulate his work, but soon decided that I would accept my place as an observer of a true master. I am really sad to hear of his passing, but so thankful he left such a wonderful legacy. I can’t imagine that he would not be counted among the world’s greatest artists of the 20th Century.

  3. Steve, your blog wonderfully captures the legacy that Mr. Wyeth has left, and I know that your words came through so poignantly because of your personal regard and respect for this great artist. It is always hard when someone with such amazing talent leaves us, but we know that his accomplishments and influence with live on through his family, friends, and the thousands of artists who continue to be inspired by his life and work.

  4. Andrew Wyeth was ” The ” American Artist

    The paintings Andrew Wyeth presented to the World were deceivingly simple on the surface. The untold stories beneath the surface were sometimes too unsettling to dwell on.
    His popularity proved his ability to connect with people on many levels.
    I visited the Olsen house this summer and his presence was unmistakably in every room of that house and no doubt always will be.
    His passing is a great loss to the art world.

  5. Thanks for all your comments.

    It was ironic that Leonard E.B. Andrews died just a few days before Mr. Wyeth. As you remember, Leonard bought the Helga collection and promted all the controvery in the mid-1980’s. Andy told me there were only three collectors interested in the Helga pictures at the time and Leonard was the first to make a firm offer. I think one of the others was Walter Annenberg who later regretted that he didn’t top Leonard’s offer.

    Andy really hated all the publicity about the Helga pictures and painted a landscape that summarized his feelings. The foreground shows a torrent of water, but the stream calms down as it projects into deep space. The painting was included in his retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

    Steve

  6. I true modern day genius – well ahead of the curve…. I am glad I lived during his time too… I can relate to the same awkward feelings and slow start in my career as well. His work is a legacy and his honesty to the craft and his beliefs will remain set in stone for countless generations.

  7. The Wyeth family is an American treasure. N.C. Wyeth enthralled us with his wonderful illustrations and his teaching talent gave us the rest.
    Andrew was and will remain one of our finest representational artists. But, we owe an awful lot to his father’s strict lessons and also that of Peter Hurd’s lessons for Wyeth.
    Many of today’s artists would do well to adhere to a regiment
    of similar work.
    The Wyeth family: http://www.wyethhurd.com/family.html

  8. What a great artist- the most accomplished naturalistic painter of America. I love his sensitive and dramatic portrayal of the Pennsylvania countryside. I especially love his earlier paintings like The Scarecrow – almost a mournful fantasy. Great stuff!!!

  9. His life was a success and we should all consider ourselves to be better artists for having studied his work. His subject matter was visionary and spoke volumes. He had great control of the paint and his work was very tight. This is a benchmark and signature of his work. He was a man of exceptional intellect and talent.

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