Lot 31
  • 31

N. C. Wyeth

Estimate
2,500,000 - 3,500,000 USD
Sold
5,985,900 USD
bidding is closed

Description

  • N. C. Wyeth
  • Portrait of a Farmer (Pennsylvania Farmer)
  • signed N.C. WYETH (lower left)
  • tempera on Renaissance panel

Provenance

The artist
Mrs. N.C. Wyeth, until 1956
[With]M. Knoedler & Co., New York
Robert F. Woolworth, 1956
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1994

Exhibited

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Institute, Painting in the United States 1943, October-December 1943, no. 284
Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art, Thirty-First Annual Exhibition of Selected American Paintings, June-August 1944 
Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Center, Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, Thirty-First Annual Exhibition of the Work of Delaware Artists, Pupils of Howard Pyle, Members of the Society, November-December 1944, no. 25
Newport, Rhode Island, Art Association of Newport, Thirty-Fourth Annual Exhibition, July 1945
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, One Hundred and Forty-First Annual Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, January-March 1946, no. 22
New York, M. Knoedler & Co. Exhibition of Paintings by N.C. Wyeth, 1882-1945, October-November 1957, no. 27 (as Pennsylvania Farmer)

Literature

American Artist, January 1945, n.p.
"Wyeth Portrait Best Painting at 34th Art Association Show," July 1945, clipping from unidentified newspaper, n.p.
Richard Layton, "Inventory of Paintings in the Wyeth Studio, 1950," Unpublished, Wyeth Family Archives, 1950, p. 91
Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 190, illustrated
Christine M. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. II, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, no. P59, p. 827, illustrated 

Catalogue Note

N.C. Wyeth painted Portrait of a Farmer in 1943, by which time he had established himself among the most well-known and successful illustrators of the twentieth century. Wyeth created hundreds of images for prominent American companies and publications in addition to illustrating many celebrated novels such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. These commissions allowed the artist’s bright, bold and dynamic aesthetic to deeply ingrain itself within the national popular consciousness. While Wyeth did not paint Portrait of a Farmer for a specific commission, it was ultimately reproduced in advertisements for the art supplies manufacturer F. Weber Company and was considered for use by Lederle Laboratories to promote the company’s veterinary vitamins.

Works such as Portrait of a Farmer attest to the deep inspiration Wyeth gleaned from the people and landscape of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Wyeth and his family moved to Chadds Ford in the Brandywine River Valley in 1908. Though he had spent summer months in the area while a student at art school, now settled in this bucolic environment he grew captivated by the rolling hills, neatly planted fields and simple way of life he observed there, and it profoundly affected all of the work he produced. “In me has revived a stronger and more vital interest and love for the life that lies about me,” he noted the year Chadds Ford became his permanent home. “ I am finding deeper pleasure, deeper meanings in the simple things in the country life here. Being older and more mature, I am realizing that one must go beneath the surface to paint and so it is that my loves, my real affections are reviving” (as quoted in Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, pp. 63-64).

In Portrait of a Farmer, Wyeth renders the Pennsylvania landscape in full autumnal splendor, the trees ablaze in vibrant tones of red, yellow and orange. A farmer stands in the foreground, smiling broadly as if demonstrating the pride he derives from the land that he owns and the life he has built. Behind his sturdy barn, a colorful planted field extends into the distance, indicating that the farmer and his family will be well-prepared for the impending winter. Wyeth utilizes minute multicolored brushstrokes to render both the landscape and figural elements, creating a veritable tapestry of vibrant patterning that contributes to the painting’s rich surface. Compositionally, the rippling, almost rhythmic manner with which he depicts the surrounding countryside expresses its fecundity and vitality, and strongly evokes the work of Grant Wood, whose unique vision of the American landscape rose to prominence in the 1930s (Fig. 1). Wyeth was undoubtedly aware of Wood’s Regionalist vision and the landscapes he painted that, notes Barbara Haskell, present primarily as “interlaced patterns of undulating, swollen shapes suggestive of growth and prosperity whose multiple focal points keep the viewer’s eye in constant motion by giving all parts of the composition equal visual weight” (Grant Wood: American Gothic and Other Fables, New York, 2018, p. 23).

The artist later explained in an undated note that this painting was in part inspired by a local farmer he witnessed carrying a pig under his arm. He based the barn on his memory of one in the area that had been destroyed by a fire five years earlier. The additional elements of the stone house and wooden fences were common sights in the Brandywine River Valley. Before completing the final version, Wyeth created several preparatory studies that provide insight into his technical process and to the dedication with which he executed this composition (Fig. 2). Indeed, the artist recognized the merits of the work soon after he completed it, writing to his daughter, Henriette, on January 21, 1943: "My escape from apprehensive hours still remains to me through my painting. In spite of all, my present large panel of the squealing pig is vastly superior to anything to date" (Christine Podmaniczky, “N.C. Wyeth Catalogue Raisonne,” Brandywine River Museum of Art, http://collections.brandywine.org/objects/11046/portrait-of-a-farmer). 

Wyeth’s romantic vision of the American landscape ultimately manifests itself within the entirety of his oeuvre, even in the works he created for specific patrons with particular objectives. Explains Roger Reed, “Although Wyeth’s illustrations are ostensibly about the characters and events in his stories, his settings—mostly landscapes—are a vital part of his illustrations and often upstage the action….It is evident, however, that Wyeth concentrated on this aspect of his assignments and took particular enjoyment in working out his landscapes…Whether for an exhibition or the printed page, a Wyeth painting is first recognizable by his sea foam, his dust, his grass or, particularly, his clouds. One could argue that Wyeth’s landscapes carry the freight of his illustrations” (Roger Reed, Walt Reed ,et al., Visions of Adventure: N.C. Wyeth and the Brandywine Artists, New York, 2000, p. 105).
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