Lot 65
  • 65

N.C. Wyeth

400,000 - 600,000 USD
bidding is closed


  • N.C. Wyeth
  • Ayrton's Fight with the Pirates
  • signed N.C. Wyeth (upper left)
  • oil on canvas 
  • 39 7/8 by 30 inches
  • (101.3 by 76.2 cm)
  • Painted in 1918.


Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, until circa 1935
Mr. and Mrs. David Randall, Bloomington, Indiana
Mr. Ronald R. Randall (their son), Santa Barbara, California, circa 1976-77
Acquired by the present owners from the above, late 1970s


Greenville, South Carolina, Greenville County Museum of Art, N.C. Wyeth, March-May 1974
Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum, Romance and Adventure with Pictures by N.C. Wyeth, January-May 1976, no. 87


Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island, New York, 1918, illustrated opp. p. 350
Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 222
Christine B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, vol. I, no. I722, p. 372, illustrated 


Please contact the American Art department for this condition report: (212) 606 7280 or americanart@sothebys.com
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Ayrton’s Fight with the Pirates is one of 17 works N.C. Wyeth painted to illustrate a 1918 edition of Jules Verne’s 1874 novel L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island). Verne’s novel tells the tale of five Americans who—seeking to escape the destruction of the Civil War—become shipwrecked on an uncharted island in the South Pacific. The present work depicts a climactic moment in the tale when Tom Ayrton—having just been found also shipwrecked on a nearby island by the protagonists—is kidnapped by pirates. As a cross-over sequel to Verne’s most famous work, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island features many of the author’s most popular characters including Ayrton, who also appears in In Search of the Castaways.

Wyeth executed the present work at the height of the period that is today known as the Golden Age of Illustration. By this time, Wyeth had achieved success as an illustrator after studying at Howard Pyle’s eponymous school and selling his first drawing to The Saturday Evening Post in 1903. He gained further recognition when he received a commission from Charles Scribner's Sons to provide the accompanying images for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in 1911, after which he became a highly sought-after illustrator of the most prominent magazines and celebrated novels of the day.

Wyeth was particularly respected for his ability to conjure a spirit of adventure in his images, allowing them to not only complement but also to enhance a narrative. This composition is fittingly dynamic, featuring strong diagonals of the figure’s arms as well as the rigging of the ship that enliven the scene. The drama is also emphasized by the artist’s skillful use of chiaroscuro. Pirates were especially popular as subject matter during this period, and they appear often in the work of Pyle. Wyeth’s admiration for Pyle’s tutelage is revealed here not only through the work’s subject but also through the careful attention to authentic details in elements such as the costumes of the pirates and the particulars of the ship. However in his best works, Wyeth undoubtedly draws from his own vivid imagination to achieve an aesthetic that is undeniably all his own. As Douglas Allen explains, “there is a heroic treatment of anatomy, for example, that makes a Wyeth masculine type so gloriously strong and virile—you look for a new discovery and technique—then that romance of color, of wave, of cloud—of those authentic, yet fascinating ships that toss or float over seas, fabulously stormy or credibly calm” (N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 140).