ANDREW WYETH: abstraction

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), was one of the foremost realist artists in the second half of the North American 20th century.

 

Among the bequests left by him and his wife, Betsy, are 7000 paintings and sketches by the artist now in the guardianship of the Wyeth Foundation for American Art. 

 

The Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine house half each of this collection;

all to be made available for exhibition, loan and study. 

 

The artist was born, raised and lived a great part of his adult life in Chadds Ford.  He spent summers in Maine, his wife’s ancestral place; and the place of his own burial. 

The Brandywine Museum is presenting a third exhibition drawn from this legacy:  images – in the watercolour which his father had taught him – as examples of the artist’s abstract work.

 

The museum notes that the artist said: 

“My struggle is to preserve that abstract flash – like something you caught out of the corner of your eye.”

 

The artist – a contemporary of the first generation of Abstract Expressionists – also sometimes called himself an ‘abstract painter’.  

 

These images – none of which contain a human or animal figure – are all clearly of the landscape of Southeastern Pennsylvania in winter: a season and a place to which the artist was very attached. 

 

The question is, then, what did the artist mean by ‘abstract.’ 

 

I am not entirely sure but:

 

the brain is frequently described as a ‘pattern-seeking’ organism. 

 

What the eye sees results from complicated interactions between the light streaming in from the eyes and the brain and the memory. 

 

It seems that the artist was seeking the earliest pattern he could retain of a scene in front of him,

those he caught out of the corner of the eye;

those which were still blurry with intuition and emotion

before the intellect kicked in,

and before the pattern was resolved into a coherent ‘reality’.

 

Otherwise put, the artist abstracted the design in front of him: its mass,  and colour and distribution of light and dark;  and laid these down in thin  films of watercolour before his painterly brain/hand could impose the discipline to encode the image with the  formal qualities which result in a finished painting.

 

These watercolours, begun in the late 1940’s,  are not named and were never meant for sale.

They were an exercise in seeing and in the practice of watercolour.

Also in loving, perhaps, because these are the most sensuous evocations of landscape I have ever seen.

 

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Here a finished painting which is an abstract:

 

 

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Thin Ice, 1969, tempera on hardboard panel. 

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Private collection, Japan.

On display at the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA in the 100th year of the artist’s birth 

 

 

Another finished painting showing its abstract lineage:

 

 

Woodshed, 1944, tempera on panel

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

And here a third.

About the painting below, the Philadelphia Art Museum notes that the artist said that this portrayal is an abstract in every way and that he did not see himself as either a realist or an abstractionist. 

He did not embrace photographic realism and his efforts, he said, were to represent the thing or person or place and its spirit.

 

 

 

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Cooling Shed, 1953, tempera on hardboard. 

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, Philadelphia Art Museum 

A milk cooling shed on the Wylie Farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. 

 

 

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Sometimes the watercolours-as-exercise became the basis of  finished paintings.

 

 

Untitled, 1968, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

26 years later, the artist reprised this image: an evocation of one of the artist’s themes: death in life. 

Also of his own profound integration in his native earth.

 

 

Breakup, 1994, tempera on panel board

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American, ?Location

 

The artist’ did not make many self-portraits; but this is one of them.  

The hands are a copy of his hands, cast first in fiberglass at his wife’s request; and then in bronze. in 1985-86. The bronze hands were kept on a windowsill in the artist’s house overlooking the Brandywine River.

 

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‘Abstract’ Watercolours 

 

 

Untitled, n.d., watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1946, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1948, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1953, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Unititled, 1953, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1955, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1956, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1956, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1958, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1960, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1960, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1961, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1961, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1961, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1962, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1962, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1965, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1967, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1967, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

 

Ice Pool Study, 1969, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1978, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1985, watercolour on paper

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1986, watercolour

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

Untitled, 1986, watercolour

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

 

Untitled, 1992, watercolour

Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009, American. Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, PA

 

 

 

 

Blue Ice Study, 1954, watercolour on paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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