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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.