American Art

Father to Son, Artist to Artist: Explore the Work of N.C. & Andrew Wyeth

By Halina Loft
Sotheby's New York American Art auction on 19 November includes artworks by N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth , three generations of a family that played a defining role in shaping America's artistic canon in the 20th century.

T he Wyeth family isn't like most other families.

Whether by nature or design, superb artistic talent runs in the Wyeth family, beginning with the famed illustrator N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945).

N.C. Wyeth

Born Newell Convers Wyeth, N.C. studied art under the tutelage of esteemed illustrator Howard Pyle; after just five months of study, N.C. submitted an illustration of a bucking bronco to The Saturday Evening Post for consideration as cover art. Unsurprisingly, his work was chosen, marking the first of many accomplishments the artist would enjoy over his career.

N. C. WYETH, UNTITLED (THREE INDIANS AT A STREAM IN SNOWY WOODS), 1904. Estimate $300,000 – 500,000.

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Over the ensuing decades, N.C.'s realist illustrations depicting the American West often featured in prominent periodicals, including Harper's Monthly, McClure's and Scribner's.


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Additionally, his illustrations for editions of classic literature such as Robinson Crusoe, The Last of the Mohicans and Treasure Island made him one of the most widely-recognized artists of his time.

N. C. WYETH, The Three Friends, circa 1939. Estimate $300,000 – 500,000.

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The next generation of the Wyeth family was similarly gifted in the arts. N.C. and his wife, Carolyn Bockius Wyeth, had five children – Henriette, Carolyn, Nathaniel, Ann and Andrew – each creative in their own right. Henriette and Carolyn became successful artists, while Ann was a musician and composer, and Nathaniel, a successful inventor.

N.C. Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth in rain gear, looking out over rocky coastline presumably in Maine, between 1939 and 1945. William E. Phelps papers, 1939-1979. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

But it was Andrew, in particular, who looked to N.C. as a tutor; due to poor health, Andrew was home-schooled by his father, while his siblings had the opportunity to attend school. Though this education was unusual, it allowed Andrew to focus fully on his art. Under N.C.'s guidance, Andrew mastered illustration, watercolor and figure drawing.

ANDREW WYETH, DRY WELL (RAIN BARREL), 1958. Estimate $300,000 – 500,000.

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Tragically, N.C. died in 1945 as a result of a train collision, an accident that also killed Nathaniel’s son, Newell. For Andrew, N.C.’s death proved formative to his artistic development; after the accident, he completed such famed tempera paintings as Winter 1946 (1946), Wind from the Sea (1947) and Christina’s World (1948).

ANDREW WYETH, PUMPKIN HILL, 1977. Estimate $150,000 – 250,000.

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Finding Solace in Maine

N.C. and Andrew both found a model and muse in Maine; the state's rocky coastline and dark tide features in a number of the artists' works over the years. Andrew met his wife, Betsy, in Maine in 1939, and the pair later purchased a summer home in Cushing, a small town on the coast. It's in Cushing that Andrew painted his famed Christina's World, in addition to a number of other works.

ANDREW WYETH, DESERTED LIGHT, 1977. Estimate $300,000 – 500,000.

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ANDREW WYETH, ABOVE THE TIDE, 1951. Estimate $150,000 – 250,000.

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Maine later became central to Jamie's life as well; in addition to his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, he maintains his family's properties in Maine, including Lobster Cove on Monhegan Island and Tenants Harbor Light on Southern Island.

Enduring Legacy

In his lifetime, Andrew was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal and the National Medal of Arts; he was the first living American artist to be elected to the British Royal Academy, as well as the first American artist since John Singer Sargent to enter the French Académie des Beaux-Arts.

American painter Andrew Wyeth in shearling coat, sitting outdoors near his home. (Photo by Kirk Wilkinson/Pix Inc./The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images) Kirk Wilkinson/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

But beyond these marks of recognition, Andrew succeeded in passing on his father’s legacy to his own son, Jamie. As N.C. had done, Andrew and his sisters tutored Jamie in the arts, propelling him to a successful career as a contemporary realist painter. With this, the Wyeths came to play an essential role in the greater canon of 20th-century American art.

The Wyeth legacy is tangible in their paintings; seeing the work of N.C. and Andrew side-by-side, one can discern how the father instructed his son to observe a landscape, place a shadow or style a figure's hand. Sotheby's New York American Art auction includes an array of exceptional works by both N.C. and Andrew; the grouping is fortuitous, creating the ideal occasion to explore a narrative between father and son, tutor and pupil, each renowned in his own right.

You can bid on works by N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth in Sotheby's American Art auction on 19 November in New York.

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