Brandywine River Museum


Chadds Ford, PA



N.C. WYETH (1882-1945)

N. C. Wyeth, courtesy of Brandywine River Museum

Newell Convers Wyeth was born on October 22, 1882 in Needham, Massachusetts. Growing up on a farm near Walden Pond, Wyeth developed a love of nature. He became interested at a young age in romantic literature and painting. His mother, Henriette Zirngiebel, nurtured his artistic talent and encouraged him to pursue it. His father, Andrew Newell Wyeth, took a more practical approach and urged Wyeth to use his talent for drafting rather than painting. The artist began his studies in drafting at the Mechanic Arts High School and also attended the Massachusetts Normal Art School and the Eric Pape School in Boston. Eventually Wyeth took all art courses.

His first published illustration, that of a bronco buster, appeared in February 1903 on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

By 1902, when he was accepted to the Howard Pyle School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware, N.C. Wyeth had studied under several masters, including Charles W. Reed. Leaving his home in Massachusetts, the young artist moved to Delaware and quickly became enamored of the Brandywine Valley countryside which he would later make his home.

N.C. Wyeth also had an affinity for the West. Because he had grown up on a farm, Wyeth could appreciate rustic beauty. He wasintrigued by the "rough and tumble" lifestyle of the West. His first published illustration, that of a bronco buster, appeared in February 1903 on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

Right: N. C. Wyeth, The Hunter

Howard Pyle felt that to depict the West accurately in his art, Wyeth had to experience it firsthand. After The Saturday Evening Post cover was published, Pyle encouraged Wyeth to take a trip to the West to strengthen his Western art. The publishing house of Charles Scribner's Sons sponsored Wyeth's Western trips in 1904 and 1906. As a result of his forays into Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, Wyeth produced several illustrations for Scribner's.

On April 16, 1906, N.C. Wyeth married Carolyn Bockius of Wilmington, Delaware. The couple moved to the countryside of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where Wyeth attended Howard Pyle's summer school. In 1911, N.C. Wyeth completed his first major commission for Scribner's, the illustrations for Treasure Island. The Brandywine River Museum has several of the original illustrations in its permanent collection, including Jim Hawkins Leaves Home and Captain Bill Bones.

Left: N. C. Wyeth, Blind Pew, 1911, oil, 47 x 38 inches

After the Treasure Island series, Wyeth went on to illustrate many other popular novels, including Kidnapped, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, The Boy's King Arthur and The Last of the Mohicans. He also illustrated many volumes for Houghton Mifflin, David McCay, and Little Brown and did serial cover illustrations for magazines such as McClure's and Scribner's. N.C. Wyeth became disenchanted with illustration after completing The Last of the Mohicans. He had always been interested in landscape and still-life painting, and when he stopped illustrating professionally, he began to focus on these two types of art.

In the 1930's, Wyeth began painting large-scale murals. In 1939, he began a series of murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The paintings were based on American pilgrim life and how it related to his ancestry. Unfortunately, he never completed the murals. In October 1945, Wyeth and his grandson were killed in a tragic car accident near his home in Chadds Ford. Wyeth's son Andrew and his son-in-law John McCoy finished what became N.C. Wyeth's last work.

N.C. Wyeth was a member of the National Academy, the Society of Illustrators, the Philadelphia Water Color Club, the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Chester County Art Association and the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts. In June of 1945, he received the honorary degree of master of arts from Bowdoin College.

You may also enjoy viewing illustrations via Artcyclopedia and from the books Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe courtesy of Fern Canyon Press.

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