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Andrew Wyeth: Master Drawings from the Artist's Collection

March 11 - July 16, 2006


"I love the quality of pencil. It helps me to get to the core of a thing, and it doesn't compete with painting. With pencil I can study things in detail -- it gives me the architectural structure -- but the color stays like a dream in the back of my mind until I come to paint."[1]

- Andrew Wyeth


Andrew Wyeth's extraordinary skill as a draftsman is the primary subject of a new exhibition at the Brandywine River Museum. Andrew Wyeth: Master Drawings from the Artist's Collection features approximately 40 works on paper created over more than five decades -- from 1951 to 2005 -- and ranging from portraits of family members and friends to vibrant depictions of objects, landscapes and buildings in and around the artist's homes in Pennsylvania and Maine. This is the first detailed examination of drawings by Andrew Wyeth since 1963 when a collection of his works opened at Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum and traveled to three other museums. (right: Andrew Wyeth, Boots, Study for Trodden Weed (1951), © Andrew Wyeth.)

"Wyeth captures tonal values almost perfectly," writes Professor Henry Adams in the extensive catalogue that accompanies the exhibition. Contours, outlines, textures, light and shade are documented with near-perfect precision. According to Adams, "Every substance he portrays is understood. He has grasped that in real life shadows are not smooth and uniform in tone but contain reflected highlights."

Boots, Study for Trodden Weed (1951) is a remarkable demonstration of Wyeth's technical virtuosity. Viewers can immediately recognize his mastery of crosshatching to create an almost sculptural depiction of the artist walking in tall boots. Adams comments, "Every little line and fleck represents a response to that particular square inch of the object. Indeed, in some peculiar way the slightly unpredictable wiggles in the lines serve not only to indicate contour and shadow but also to evoke the distinctive linear patterns of the cracking old leather."

In addition to revealing Wyeth's superb technical ability, his drawings offer exciting and valuable insight into his creative process. Through the drawings, "We begin to understand his motivation; we believe we see the past, the moment when an object, person, or scene became extraordinarily compelling to him," remarks Brandywine River Museum Director James H. Duff in the Preface to the catalogue.

Such insight is evident, for example, in Monologue, Study (1965), a portrait of Wyeth's friend Willard Snowden who, as Wyeth stated, "talked all the time he was sitting."[2] As he posed, Snowden regaled Wyeth with his adventures as a sailor and drifter. Wyeth was intrigued by "the courtliness of his speech, which had the quality of a college professor's," explains Adams. "The treatment could hardly be more direct, but this very simplicity encourages us to focus on details that otherwise might escape us. Wyeth tends to use this approach particularly when he wants to create an effect of psychological intimacy." (right: Andrew Wyeth, Brinton's Mill, Study for Night Sleeper (1979), © Andrew Wyeth.)

While many of the drawings are preliminary to well-known paintings -- and while Andrew Wyeth is known primarily for his work in tempera, watercolor and drybrush -- these remarkable drawings offer unique opportunities for contemplation and pleasure; their beauty derives from exceptional techniques described in Professor Adams' essay.

Andrew Wyeth: Master Drawings from the Artist's Collection is organized by the Brandywine River Museum and appears concurrently with Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (March 29 through July 16, 2006). The exhibition catalogue is available in the Brandywine River Museum Shop.


Also of interest

The restored home and art studio of famed American illustrator N.C. Wyeth re-opens for public tours on April 1, 2006. Tours depart from the Brandywine River Museum by shuttle Tuesday through Sunday at timed intervals through November 19, 2006.

In 1911, with the proceeds from his illustrations for Treasure Island, N.C.Wyeth purchased 18 acres of land on Rocky Hill in the village of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Possessed of "the most glorious sight in the township," Wyeth built his home and studio overlooking the valley. Here he set down roots, which for nine decades have nourished a family of extraordinary creativity. N.C. Wyeth lived there until his death in 1945, and Mrs. Wyeth continued to live in the house until 1973.

The Brandywine River Museum now owns the house and studio, as well as thousands of items that were part of the life of the Wyeth family and props that were part of the engrossing career of N.C. Wyeth. Educational tours of the N.C. Wyeth House and Studio permit visitors to experience the environment where Wyeth created many of his memorable works of art and the house where he raised his five extraordinarily gifted children. The N.C. Wyeth House and Studio is a National Landmark and a member of the Historic Artists' Homes and Studios group of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Beginning April 1, 2006, the Brandywine River Museum resumes educational tours of the historic Kuerner Farm. For more than 70 years, the farm has been a major source of inspiration to Andrew Wyeth. Since his earliest painting of the farm in 1932 at the age of 15, Wyeth has found subjects in its people, animals, buildings and landscapes for nearly 1,000 works of art. Guided tours of the farm allow visitors to explore Andrew Wyeth's art and view areas of the property depicted in many of his works.

On one of his boyhood walks, Andrew Wyeth discovered Karl and Anna Kuerner's farm, located approximately one mile from his parents' home in Chadds Ford. Wyeth was intrigued by the Kuerners and by Karl Kuerner's stories of his service in the German army during World War I. The Kuerners had strong ties to their heritage, continuing to speak German and socializing mostly with other German immigrants. Andrew Wyeth was one exception. As a young artist, he developed a close relationship with the Kuerners, and after years of gaining their trust, he was permitted to roam the property freely -- even inside the house -- to draw and paint.

Many of Wyeth's best-known works of art have emerged from his long fascination with the farm, including Winter 1946 (1946), Groundhog Day (1959), Evening at Kuerners (1970), Young Bull (1960), Spring Fed (1967), and Overflow (1978). Reproductions of these works can be viewed on the tour, along with parts of the house, barn and property to demonstrate how Wyeth alters the physical details of a site in order to communicate a particular idea.

The Kuerner Farm was acquired by the Brandywine Conservancy, the Brandywine River Museum's parent organization, in 1999. After an extensive restoration effort that coincided with the Conservancy's $25 million facilities expansion project, the Kuerner Farm was opened to the public for educational tours in 2004.


1. E.P. Richardson, "Andrew Wyeth's Painting Techniques," in Wanda Corn et al., The Art of Andrew Wyeth {exh. cat., The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco} (Greenwich, Conn., 1973), 86.

2. Andrew Wyeth, "Editor's Letters," Art News (May 1952), 6.

Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:


rev. 2/18/06

Read more articles and essays concerning this institutional source by visiting the sub-index page for the Brandywine River Museum in Resource Library.

TFAO also suggests these DVD or VHS videos:

Andrew Wyeth Self-Portrait: Snow Hill:  60 minutes 1995."Sensitively narrated by actor Stacy Keach, this intimate self-portrait was lovingly produced by the artist's wife, Betsy James Wyeth, and explores over 60 years of Andrew Wyeth's personal drama. This video incorporates the artist's great works of art with family photographs, home movies, personal letters, never-before-seen footage of Wyeth, and the first interview granted by famed model Helga Testorf. This tremendously moving program lends a treasured and unforgettable insight into Andrew Wyeth's very private world."
Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures Charlton Heston narrates this 1987 portrait filmed at Chadds Ford where many of Wyeth's famous Helga pictures were painted, and examines 44 of the .Helga pictures, including 22 nudes that have created a storm of controversy in the art world, examining the meaning and mystery of Wyeth's work. VHS: 36 minutes.
Real World of Andrew Wyeth Features the art of Andrew Wyeth. 69 minutes (collection of Joslyn Art Museum)
Snow Hill, Andrew Wyeth Self Portrait is a 60 minute video narrated by Stacy Keach, produced in 1995 by Chip Taylor Communications. The authorized documentary about Andrew Wyeth. Available through Brandywine River Museum.
Tour of the Olson House with Dudley Rockwell, A is a 46 minute video produced in 1997 by the Farnsworth Art Museum. Filmed by Deb Vendetti. An intimate look at the house made famous by the artist, Andrew Wyeth, as told by Wyeth's brother-in-law and Olson neighbor, Dudley Rockwell.
Wyeths: A Father and His Family, The is a 58 minute 1995 Smithsonian Video produced by WETA and released by Unapix. This is a film portrait of American painter and illustrator Newell Converse Wyeth (1882-1945), better known to many by his initials, N.C. The character of the ebullient Wyeth is described by his sons and daughters: painters Andrew, Carolyn, and Henriette, the composer Ann, and the engineer Nathaniel.

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