Farnsworth Art Museum

Rockland, ME




Three Generations of Wyeths Featured in Spring, 2001 Farnsworth Art Museum Exhibitions


Trending Into Maine: The Illustrations of N. C. Wyeth

The exhibition "Trending Into Maine: The Illustrations of N. C. Wyeth" will open May 13, 2001 at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The exhibition reunites a selection of Wyeth's striking illustrations published in the 1938 Kenneth Roberts classic book Trending Into Maine, with seldom seen preparatory studies for the works and other related material.

Newell Convers Wyeth, having spent summers with his family in Port Clyde, Maine for eighteen years, was well acquainted with the elements of the landscape and the people of Maine that make it unique. Wyeth also had a deep interest in American history, reading voraciously and collecting historical uniforms and costumes to use in his illustrations to ensure accurate details. He corresponded with the author, Maine native Kenneth Roberts, asking questions and seeking in-depth information that would allow him to paint as if he had known the subjects personally. His goal for this series was "to depict what is historically true of this particular Coast line, and what is universal in appeal." (left: N. C. Wyeth, "A Young Maine Fisherman," c. 1934, oil on canvas, 47 x 51 inches, Courtesy of MBNA)

This series of paintings has many of the characteristic elements of Wyeth's later works. He was introduced to egg tempera painting by his son-in-law Peter Hurd; and, although he never truly connected with the medium, he began painting in oils on the prepared panels, called Renaissance panels, commonly used for tempera paintings. He also moved towards a thinner, washy application of paint, often allowing the white gesso of the panel to show through as highlights, reminiscent of watercolor.

Many of the subjects in the series allowed Wyeth to reflect on his own experiences in Maine. He was given the freedom by the publisher and the author to choose his own subjects, not necessarily corresponding to particular passages in the book, but endeavoring to capture the essence of the Maine coast. With obvious pride, Wyeth wrote to his daughter, artist Henriette, "The string of ... panels ... for the Maine book done since you left are, I firmly believe, my tops in illustrative painting." (left: N. C. Wyeth, "A Maine Sea Captain's Daughter," c. 1938, oil on panel, 29 1/2 x 22 3/4 inches, Courtesy of MBNA)

This exhibition was organized by Pamela J. Belanger, Curator of Collections, and Lauren Raye Smith, Conservator/Assistant Curator.


Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors

The early watercolors of Andrew Wyeth will be featured in a new installation in the Hadlock and Study Center galleries at the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine, beginning on May 27 and continuing through October 7, 2001.

These seldom seen works trace Wyeth's emergence on the national art scene during the late 1930s and 1940s. His first one-man show took place in 1937 at the venerable MacBeth Gallery in New York (which also handled work by Edward Hopper, John Sloan and other major artists of the period). Only 20 years old, Wyeth received an overwhelming reception from critics and the public. The MacBeth show focused exclusively on Wyeth's watercolors, mostly done during the previous summer in Maine. At the close of the show every painting was sold. It was a phenomenal debut for a young artist, although even this auspicious beginning could not have predicted Wyeth's continued popularity and success down to the present. (left: Andrew Wyeth (born 1917), "Clouds and Shadow," 1940, Watercolor on paper, 18 x 22 inches, Farnsworth Art Museum purchase)

The early watercolors express not only youthful energy and an exuberant palette that, in the context of Wyeth's later, muted colors, can only be described as riotous, these paintings demonstrate a remarkable sophistication and understanding of the medium. Watercolor is unforgiving and although seemingly spontaneous and free, every stroke counts; revisions are nearly impossible and choices, including what areas to leave alone, are critical. It is Wyeth that can best surmise the success of these early works: "They were a portrait of how I felt at the time, the nervous excitement of my temperament, I can't go back now and recapture that. I think you paint what you are."

With these first watercolors, the artist, even a young man, was breaking new ground and establishing new standards for "the American medium," extending the tradition of Homer, Prendergast, Hopper and many others. Unlike his antecedents or even contemporaries, Wyeth's early watercolors are both closely observed and evocative of particular moments and places but also function abstractly as pure light, color and movement. Certain paintings of this period-titled and zoomed-in views of rocks, beach grasses and tidal pools-even predict and echo the total abstractions of Jackson Pollack and other gestural painters of the 1950s. These are the works of a young artist looking at nature with eyes full of curiosity, wonder and with heightened brilliance of youthful self-confidence. (left: Andrew Wyeth (born 1917), "Rocks and the Sea," 1944, Watercolor on paper, 21 1/4 x 29 1/2 inches, Gift of the American Academy of Arts and Letters [Childe Hassam Fund])


The Maine Influence: Selected Works by James Wyeth

The exhibition "The Maine Influence: Selected Works by James Wyeth" will open May 20, 2001, at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The third generation of an artistic family, James Wyeth has spent the majority of his life in Maine painting and drawing with acuity and intensity the people and places that surround him. This exhibition focuses on the range of his work, from the early watercolors often painted along side his father, Andrew, to the most recent works, evocative and occasionally surreal paintings of subjects found on Southern or Monhegan Islands. Wyeth portrays the individuality of every subject, whether animate or inanimate. (left: James Wyeth, "Coast Guard Anchor," 1982, watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 1/4 inches, Bequest of Mrs. Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1997)

The works in this exhibition span over 35 years of James Wyeth's career. Wyeth's summers as a child were spent exploring the Maine coastline, accompanying his father on painting trips. His father was not a teacher in the strictest sense; but he did teach his young son by example, and James' early watercolors reveal his father's influence. From his father, the younger Wyeth learned his strong work ethic and he paints every day.

The broad range of works in this exhibition shows Wyeth's artistic exploration. He finds humor and irony in everyday situations, his favorite subjects being those he considers overlooked by others. When asked how he decides what to paint, he replied, "There's some funny thing that makes me want to paint something. It's a terrible kind of insolence, this delusion that I am recording something nobody's looked at before, a unique view. That's why I paint." (left: James Wyeth, "Bronze Age," 1966, Oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches, Farnsworth Art Museum purchase, 1967)

Lauren Raye Smith, Conservator/Assistant Curator, organized this exhibition.

Note: Readers may enjoy an essay by Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner on the art of James Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth: Proteus in Paint published in this magazine November, 1998.

rev. 5/29/01

Read more about the Farnsworth Art Museum in Resource Library Magazine

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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. 5/23/11

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