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Andrew Wyeth’s Chadds Ford

October 12, 2010

It is only one and a half years since Andrew Wyeth has passed away. He painted until his last days but his work looks out of time, he was one of the last heroes of the best traditional values in painting, an outsider, a poet with a brush.
From New York, which I went to visit, Andrew Wyeth‘s village, Chadds Ford, was only three hours away, two by train, one by taxi (there is no public transport to the village). By coincidence Henry, the taxi driver, had met the artist personally and, apart from driving, he also worked part-time in the Delaware Museum, where there are also some paintings from N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth and James Wyeth. The Delaware Museum was on the way to Chadds Ford, so he kindly made a stop to guide us through the museum towards the paintings of the Wyeths.

In Chadds Ford, we spent most of our two days visit at the Brandywine River Museum, a nice small museum where there is a good number of paintings from the three generation of Wyeths. I also took part to the guided tours of N.C. Wyeth’s house and studio, the tour of the Kuerners farm and Victoria Wyeth’s guide through the exhibited works in the museum (she is Andrew’s granddaughter).

I was impressed by the luxuriant green landscape all around, the sun was still very warm and bright at the end of September, cicadas and birds still singing all around. I did not recognise the dim light of Andrew’s paintings of these landscapes, although I know that in summer he would go to the coast of Maine. However, I found out that there was very little sign that what we were looking at were the settings of most of his paintings, as they look so remote in time and spirit. Then, when I visited the Kuerners Farm, where he took inspiration for about 1.000 drawings and paintings during 70 years, I realised how personal his work was, how much of his soul and of the spirit of his characters is in those works. I could compare directly the images of his paintings with the real settings and I could see how he altered the appearance of things to give them a more dramatic appearance and a deeper meaning. He omitted windows, trees, he displaced houses and hills, he altered colours, he simplified shapes, he composed always in benefit of the message.

Left: Andrew Wyeth, ‘Young Bull’, 1960. – Right: The original place, the Kuerners farm in Chadds Ford

 

The most fascinating thing about this artist is that his paintings are not only great individual pieces, but they form a body of work that spans for so many decades that you can really witness the passing of time and the development of the events. You look at those paintings and imagine long-gone days of a nostalgic time, but in reality, if you look around you and try to see an “undressed” reality, with no roads, fewer or no trees nor parked SUVs, everything is actually there, even some of his models are still around.

His subjects were neighbours and friends, they all became part of his life, sometimes, like the case of the Kuerners, they even gave him the keys to enter in their house at any time. All his paintings are now essential pieces of a big body of work that narrates the existence of those ordinary, peripheral lives, from their youth to their old age, through the unflattering vision of the artist. You can see the presence of those people also through their objects and their environments when they are not present in the paintings or when they have died.

For someone who has read a little about his private world and known about the people he painted, it is very poignant to see the actual places where they spent their lives and read through a series of paintings the passing of the time, the vigour of the youth, the decline of the age and the death. What makes his paintings “magical” is his poetisation of the reality, his obsession with the details that become meaningful in his paintings, they remind us of something or of somebody, they express a feeling that is easily shared by the viewer who lets himself be transported by Andrew’s world.

Although he had a big recognisement during his life, Andrew Wyeth remained in his small village, isolated from the art establishment and from the modern mad race towards the visual innovation in art.

Left: Andrew Wyeth, ‘Spring Fed’, 1967. - Right: the original place at the Kuerners farm

 

Andrew Wyeth, 'The Kuerners', 1971, drybrush, 67x102cm. ___This portrait, according to the artist, shows well how the relationship between this old married couple, Anna and Karl Kuerner, had been like during all their time together.

Andrew Wyeth, 'Pine Baron', 1976, tempera on panel. ___Andrew Wyeth tells how he was suddenly struck by the view of this World War 1 helmet on the ground. It belonged to Karl Kuerner, who fought in the trenches during the War. "My hair went on end. It's what Anna Kuerner thinks of war and her husband's army experiences. And she was using it just to carry the pine cones in to start the fire with."

Andrew Wyeth, 'Spring', 1978, tempera on panel, 61x122cm. ___While Karl Kuerner was close to death from illness, he was haunted by allucinations about his experience in the World War 1 trenches when he was young. The artist, fascinated by this old man, painted him in an ice drift, as if he was timeless.

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