Andrew Wyeth was born in 1917 as the son of N.C. Wyeth, a successful illustrator and his primary teacher. His elder sister Henriette and brother-in-law Peter Hurd were well-regarded artists in their own right, and Hurd introduced Wyeth to techniques in egg tempera. Despite these strong familial influences, Wyeth was an individualist, and developed a distinctively introspective and tactile style.
Wyeth’s first success came with an acclaimed solo exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in New York at the age of nineteen. Throughout the years, he remained inspired by his birthplace of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and summer residence in Port Clyde, and later Cushing, Maine. Winslow Homer’s watercolors were an early influence, and Wyeth first visited the artist’s Prouts Neck studio in 1936. Philadelphia-based artist Thomas Eakins’s portraits, meanwhile, greatly influenced his approach to the human figure. Albrecht Dürer and other early Renaissance artists inspired his careful and consistent attention to detail.
Wyeth became well known for his poignant, ruminative works following the fame of Christina’s World in 1948, which entered the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He received awards from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Carnegie Institute, and in 1963 was the first painter to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1976 he became the first contemporary native-born artist to receive a retrospective exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Wyeth was also the first American elected to the Académie des Beaux-Arts since John Singer Sargent, and the first living American artist elected to the Royal Academy of Britain. He was the recipient of the Congressional Gold Medal in 1988, the highest civilian honor available from the United States Congress. He continued to paint through numerous illnesses before his death in 2009. Through a lengthy career that pushed the potential of representational painting, Wyeth’s work stands as an enduring counterpoint to the power of abstract art in the twentieth century.
Written by Zenobia Wingate