Andrew Wyeth 1917 - 2009
- Andrew Wyeth
- Beauty Rest
- signed Andrew Wyeth, l.r.
- drybrush and watercolor on paper
- sight: 27 by 38 ½ in.
- (68.6 by 97.8 cm)
- Executed in 1991.
Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania
Private Collection, New York, 1995
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum, Andrew Wyeth Gallery-Summer 1993, May-November 1993
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum, Andrew Wyeth Gallery, May-November 1994
Andrew Wyeth first met the woman who would become the model for Beauty Rest when he arrived unannounced on her lawn to ask permission to paint a portrait of her home, an Italianate mansion known as Painter's Folly, a Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania landmark built in 1856. The house had been the artist Howard Pyle's seasonal residence and during the summers he brought a dozen of his most promising pupils, including Andrew's father N.C. Wyeth, to study painting and live at the Pyle family home.
It was N.C.'s fond memories of those summers, and his profound feeling that the valley "was more New England than New England itself" that led the Massachusetts native to settle permanently in Chadds Ford. Although Andrew was born several years after Pyle's death and the subsequent sale of Painter's Folly, he grew up on a neighboring farm listening to his father recount the exciting stories Pyle had illustrated, "instilling in Andrew a dual, almost conflicting, love of fantasy and observation" (Memory and Magic, p. 17). As such, Painter's Folly was much more than a fascinating structure among the nearby rolling hills he called home, becoming a touchstone of a long artistic tradition that had shaped his career.
In Beauty Rest, the model reclines in a state of dreamy abandon in her bedroom interior, her torso concealed by a pleated, smocked blouse, drawn in exacting detail. The shirt is reminiscent of the period dress shirts worn underneath the revolutionary jackets that could be found in the trunks of costumes N.C. had collected over the years to use in his illustrations. The contours of the woman's hips and legs are tantalizingly visible through the translucent fabric of her stockings while the spare, white bed, stiff beneath her, is no more inviting than her gaze. The contrast between her prim blouse and revealing stockings and the seeming discord between her sensual pose and her aloof, distant expression represent an interesting dichotomy in Wyeth's work. While the figure in Beauty Rest, and other portraits of languidly posed women, including Helga, recall the courtesan subjects of Ingres and Manet, her contradictory sexuality distinguishes her from her art historical predecessors.
The interior of the bedroom in Beauty Rest is flooded with natural light, streaming in from open windows on both sides. John Wilmerding writes that Wyeth employs windows as "a visual play on the panel itself. His views are often contained within one section of a composition, making us aware of frames within frames. Usually these openings are parallel to the picture surface, but occasionally there is a tension between these two planes; sometimes one or more of the framing edges of a window is contiguous with the actual frame of the painting. This form of playfulness calls attention to the act of looking, to the juxtaposition of landscapes within and without, and to the synapse between reality and artifice" (Memory and Magic, p. 22). The inclusion of windows was also discussed in detail by Ann Classen Knutson in the recent retrospective exhibition, Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic. She writes, "When Wyeth juxtaposes figures and thresholds, the people he depicts appear unaware of the artist's presence, as they are lost in contemplation, absorbed in some activity, or sleeping. Wyeth associates the liminal spaces of thresholds with psychological states of thinking, imagining, and dreaming; the paintings become magical chambers where dreams are played out" (Memory and Magic, p. 74 ) Wyeth painted reclining or sleeping figures throughout his career, works John Wilmerding refers to as 'portrait still lifes' or 'stilled lives,' that explore the dreams of both the sitter and the artist.
Andrew Wyeth rarely acknowledged outside sources, art historical or otherwise, and his art is characterized by its autobiographical reference points. The only artist Wyeth did claim to admire was Edward Hopper, perhaps recognizing something in Hopper's work that recalled his own. John Wilmerding writes, "In Hopper's art there is a similar consciousness of the psychological and sexual beneath the surface of things; a concentration of architectural fragments and an association of structures with personalities; a brooding emptiness in the landscape and a strong abstract design underlying the realist view; and a vision attuned to modern loneliness and alienation" (Memory and Magic, p. 19). In Beauty Rest, Wyeth, subtly highlights the sexuality of his subject while framing her in a carefully structured interior, heightening the sense of unavailability and creating an exquisite sexual tension.