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Andrew Wyeth


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(b Chadds Ford, Pa., 12 July 1917; d Chadds Ford, 16 Jan. 2009).

American painter, son and pupil of a well-known muralist and illustrator of children's books, Newell Convers Wyeth (1882–1944). Wyeth's work consisted almost entirely of depictions of the people and places of the two areas he knew best—the Brandywine Valley around his native Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and the area near Cushing, Maine, where he had his summer home. He usually painted in watercolour or tempera with a precise and detailed technique, and often he conveyed a sense of loneliness or nostalgia (trappings of the modern world, such as motor cars, rarely appear in his work). He became famous with Christina's World (1948), which was bought by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1949 and has became one of the best-known images in American art. It depicts a friend of the artist, Christina Olson, who had been so badly crippled by polio that she moved by dragging herself with her arms. She is shown in a field on her farm in Maine, ‘pulling herself slowly back towards the house’. Building on the picture's fame, Wyeth went on to have an enormously successful career. However, critical opinion on him is widely divided: J. Carter Brown, director of the National Gallery in Washington 1969–92, called him ‘a great master’, whereas Professor Sam Hunter, one of the leading authorities on 20th-century American art, has written: ‘What most appeals to the public, one must conclude, apart from Wyeth's conspicuous virtuosity, is the artist's banality of imagination and lack of pictorial ambition. He comfortably fits the commonsense ethos and non-heroic mood of today's popular culture, despite his occasional lapses into gloomy introspection.’ Wyeth himself explained his popularity by saying, ‘It's because I happen to paint things that reflect the basic truths of life: sky, earth, friends, the intimate things.’

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