Lot 58
  • 58

N. C. WYETH | "On Nearer Approach He Was Still More Surprised at the Singularity of the Stranger's Appearance" ("These Fairy Mountains," Rip Van Winkle and His Dog Wolf)

1,000,000 - 1,500,000 USD
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  • N. C. Wyeth
  • "On Nearer Approach He Was Still More Surprised at the Singularity of the Stranger's Appearance" ("These Fairy Mountains," Rip Van Winkle and His Dog Wolf)
  • signed N.C. WYETH. (lower right)
  • oil on canvas
  • 40 by 30 inches
  • (101.6 by 76.2 cm)
  • Painted in 1921.


The artist
Mannados Book Shop, New York, by 1954
Knoedler Galleries, New York, 1954
Mr. W.J. Hopwood, Jr., Winnipeg, Canada (probably acquired from the above)
By descent
J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York, 1985
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa 1988


New York, Knoedler Galleries, Exhibition of Paintings by N.C. Wyeth, 1882-1945, October-November 1957, no. 89
(probably) Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, 1958


Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1921, illustrated opp. p. 32
New York State Conservationist, August-September 1954, cover illustration
Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 207, illustrated p. 106
Christine B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. I, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, no. I-851, p. 418, illustrated


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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

N.C. Wyeth painted the present work as an illustration for a 1921 edition of Washington Irving’s Rip Van Winkle. First published in 1820, Rip Van Winkle tells the story of a Dutch-American settler who falls asleep in the woods outside his village prior to the American Revolution and wakes up 20 years later after the war has ended. He returns home to his village to find that time has passed without him, and almost everything has changed. On Nearer Approach He was Still More Surprised at the Singularity of the Stranger’s Appearance depicts an early moment in Irving’s narrative, when the protagonist first encounters a group of small bearded men who are drinking and playing nine-pin bowling.  While in the present work Rip has just stumbled upon one of these mysterious characters, Irving goes on to describe the scene as follows: "On entering the amphitheatre, new objects of wonder presented themselves. On a level spot in the centre was a company of odd-looking personages playing at ninepins. They were dressed in quaint outlandish fashion; some wore short doublets, others jerkins, with long knives in their belts, and most of them had enormous breeches, of similar style with that of the guide's. Their visages, too, were peculiar; one had a large head, broad face, and small piggish eyes; the face of another seemed to consist entirely of nose, and was surmounted by a white sugar-loaf hat, set off with a little red cock's tail. They all had beards, of various shapes and colors. There was one who seemed to be the commander. He was a stout old gentleman, with a weather-beaten countenance; he wore a laced doublet, broad belt and hanger, high-crowned hat and feather, red stockings, and high-heeled shoes, with roses in them. The whole group reminded Rip of the figures in an old Flemish painting, in the parlor of Dominie Van Schaick, the village parson, and which had been brought over from Holland at the time of the settlement. What seemed particularly odd to Rip was, that though these folks were evidently amusing themselves, yet they maintained the gravest faces, the most mysterious silence, and were, withal, the most melancholy party of pleasure he had ever witnessed. Nothing interrupted the stillness of the scene but the noise of the balls, which, whenever they were rolled, echoed along the mountains like rumbling peals of thunder."

Wyeth executed the present work at the height of the period known today as the Golden Age of Illustration. By this time, Wyeth had achieved commercial success 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 novels of the day. These commissions allowed the artist’s bright, bold and dynamic aesthetic to deeply ingrain itself within the national popular consciousness as Wyeth proved his ability to bring iconic characters and their escapades to life again and again. Wyeth was particularly respected for the spirit of adventure he seamlessly conjured in his images, which often not only complemented but also enhanced a narrative. Here, Wyeth utilizes his romantic vision of the Catskill Mountain landscape to emphasize the exciting journey on which Rip Van Winkle is about to depart. Indeed, standing prominently in the foreground atop a rocky mountain peak, Van Winkle adopts a heroic stance with his gun and faithful dog, Wolf, primed at the ready for any danger that might befall them. Wyeth’s expressive brushwork further emphasizes the rugged nature of the environment, untouched by human presence save Rip and these mysterious men.

The sublime and almost Edenic interpretation of the American landscape that Wyeth presents here ultimately manifests itself within the entirety of his oeuvre. 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).