Mississippi Museum of Art
Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends
Mississippi Museum of Art presents the premiere of Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends, an exhibition of 74 original works depicting the world of Wyeth's African-American friends and neighbors. The exhibition of works by America's most celebrated living artist opens February 3 and continues through May 13, 2001.
Andrew Wyeth, known for his realistic depiction of everyday America, is generally regarded as "America's Painter," and is perhaps the most well known of the artistic Wyeth family, which includes his father N. C., sisters Henriette and Carolyn, and son Jamie. Since the early 1950s, critics worldwide have both lionized and criticized Andrew Wyeth. His inimitable style, however, has become a favorite of people from all ends of the human spectrum, not only in the United States but around the globe. (left: And Bells on Her Toes, 1997, drybrush and watercolor on paper, 22 x 29 3/4 inches, Collection of William and KathleenPowell)
Organized by Mississippi Museum of Art Director R. Andrew Maass and Chief Curator René Paul Barilleaux in close cooperation with the artist and his wife, Betsy James Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends is the first critical look at a significant body of paintings depicting the artist's African-American friends and neighbors in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, from 1933 to the present. This rare and remarkable survey explores the world just over the ridge from Wyeth's studio in Chadds Ford. Documented here are the lives of a proud and strong people, as seen through the eyes of the artist, who grew up with, knows and loves them. It is a study of warm friendships and the strokes of genius that fly like sparks from Wyeth's pencils and brushes. Said Andrew Wyeth, "I think one's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes. I see no reason for painting but that. If I have anything to offer, it is my emotional contact with the place where I live and the people I do." (left: Alexander Chandler, 1995, drybrush on paper, 21 1/2 x 15 inches, Private collection)
Although most recent Wyeth exhibitions have focused on the works of the entire Wyeth family or Andrew Wyeth's Helga paintings, this unique project chronicles seven decades of an under-appreciated yet historically relevant aspect of the artist's relationship to his home and his community. It is a theme that resonates with dignity, diversity and inclusiveness -- very important issues in Mississippi, throughout the Deep South and indeed, throughout America.
"These works are, perhaps, among the artist's purest paintings, ones that are virtually devoid of metaphor and symbolism," explains Mississippi Museum of Art Director R. Andrew Maass. "The subjects are real. To Wyeth, they are the earth; they are nature itself, not metaphors for something else. Here, color is everything. These are works, and a life, where the only distinctions between black and white are the hues and colors on a piece of paper or panel. These drawings, watercolors, and temperas document his friends while he explores color, texture and nature. This lifetime of work is about Andrew Wyeth's home and community -- the world in which he really lives. As an exhibition, Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends reveals an artist who reveres and respects his world -- a world that is inclusive and without bias. It just is." (left: The Drifter, 1964, drybrush and watercolor on paper, 22 1/2 x 28 1/2 inches, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth)
Included in the exhibition are oil paintings, major tempera paintings, watercolors and graphite drawings from numerous lenders, including major U.S. museums and private collectors across the country, as well as thirty works from the personal collection of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth. Many of these works have rarely been publicly displayed, and Wyeth's first painting of the millennium, an African-American female figure entitled Dryad, is being displayed in this exhibition for the first time. (left: Granddaughter, 1956, drybrush and watercolor on paper, 15 3/4 x 22 1/2 inches, Collection of Wadsworth Athenium, Hartford, Connecticut, Gift of Mrs. Robert Montgomery, 1991.79)
"Andrew Wyeth's world is unique and his work so original, yet there are few opportunities to bring them together in any new way," shared Maass about the accompanying publication. "We appreciate that without Andrew Wyeth's works and words there would be no book and no exhibition. Yet, it was Betsy Wyeth who culled the works, determined their order, tamed the words, and organized this book, creating a collectors' piece of significant importance documenting this fascinating body of work." (left: Adam, 1963, tempera on panel, 24 1/4 x 48 inches, Private collection)
About the Artist
Andrew Newell Wyeth, America's most celebrated living artist, was born July 12, 1917, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Educated at home by private tutors, Andrew studied art with his father, noted illustrator Newell Convers Wyeth.
Known for his realistic depiction of everyday America, Andrew Wyeth is generally regarded as "America's Painter," and is perhaps the most well known of the artistic Wyeth family, which includes his father N. C., sisters Henriette Wyeth and Carolyn Wyeth, and son Jamie Wyeth.
In an age when many people would be hard-pressed to name one other living American artist, Andrew Wyeth has achieved almost mythic stature. It is said that the characters in his paintings have become icons and the places where they were painted have become shrines. His paintings have been exhibited worldwide, with shows at most major museums in the United States, as well as in Russia, Europe and Japan. Many Wyeth exhibitions of the past decade or so have focused on the works of the Wyeth family or Andrew Wyeth's paintings of his neighbor Helga Testorf, created in secret over a period of fifteen years.
Andrew Wyeth's first solo exhibition was held in 1937, at Macbeth Gallery in New York City. The twenty year-old artist sold every work included in the show within 24 hours of it's opening. In 1940 at age 23, Andrew Wyeth married Betsy James. That same year, he became the youngest artist ever to be elected to membership in the American Watercolor Society. In 1948, he painted Christina's World, which was later acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. This image has become one of the most familiar icons of 20th century American art.
In 1950, Wyeth was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. In 1955, he was elected to membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1960 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In both of these cases, he was the youngest elected member ever. In 1970, Wyeth had the first major solo exhibition of art ever held at the White House in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Wyeth has won many awards and significant recognition for his artwork, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy (1963); the Gold Medal for preeminence in painting from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1965); and the Congressional Gold Medal, awarded by President George Bush (1990). He has received honorary doctorate degrees from numerous colleges and universities, and is an elected associate member of the Insitut de France Academie des Beaux Arts in Paris and an honorary member of the Royal Society of Painters and Watercolourists in London.
The 2001 exhibition and national tour of Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends, organized by the Mississippi Museum of Art, marks the first critical look at a significant body of Wyeth's work which depicts the artist's African-American friends and neighbors in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, from 1933 to the present. It is a rare and remarkable survey which explores the world and the people just over the ridge from Andrew Wyeth's studio.
At the request of the Wyeths, the exhibition will premiere at the Mississippi Museum of Art, then travel exclusively in the Deep South to Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville, South Carolina (June 6 - August 26, 2001) and Telfair Museum of Art, Savannah, Georgia (September 15 - December 31, 2001 ).
A 160 page hardcover book by the same title accompanies the Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends exhibition and is available as of January 2001 through the Museum Store at the Mississippi Museum of Art or from University of Washington Press.
The exhibition and national tour of Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends are sponsored through a generous grant from the Selby and Richard McRae Foundation.
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Please click on thumbnail images bordered by a red line to see enlargements.
For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.
This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 4/30/11
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