Andrew Wyeth in the Art History Class

Wyeth Overturned

Good morning.  Though we covered Venetian Renaissance in my high school art history classes this morning, I could not resist dragging Andrew Wyeth into a key discussion over the art of Titian.  Titian used a method I like to call “composting,” as he would rough out a composition with four oil colors while the model posed, then turn the canvas to the wall, and walk away for months.  Helen Gardner wrote of this technique.  During his time away, he would think through his painting, then return to the studio and complete it, drawing from the image in his mind’s eye.

Edward Hopper seemed to take this approach as well.  When his sculptor neighbor would see him strolling through the park, he would ask: “What are you doing, Mr. Hopper?”  The answer: “I’m thinking out my painting.”  His wife Jo said he would take months thinking about a particular composition before he finally got around to stretching the canvas and beginning it.

Andrew Wyeth revealed the following in an interview: “I’ll take weeks out doing drawings, watercolor studies, I may never use.  I’ll throw them in a backroom, never look at them again or drop them on the floor and walk over them.  But I feel that the communion that has seeped into the subconscious will eventually come out in the final picture.”  I’ll never forget the time I read of Wyeth and a curator pulling some 1600 watercolor and drybrush studies from his storage drawers and cupboards.  Such an extensive body of work lies beneath Wyeth’s egg tempera paintings, like 90% of the iceberg lying concealed beneath the waves.

For years, I have carried in my mind’s eye the images of Andrew Wyeth’s drawings and drybrush renderings of pine cones piled up in a German helmet, no doubt belonging to Karl Kuerner from the first World War.   One day I purchased in an antique store this baby blue pail for the precise reason of filling it with pine cones and attempting an Andrew Wyeth-style drybrush.  But I let this pail sit in my garage for nearly a decade.  Finally, I took it out to a horse pasture, filled it with pine cones, turned it over beneath a tree, and gave it a try.

I believe I still have this sketch somewhere among my piles of watercolors in the studio closet (not 1600 of them!).  I need to look for it and give it a second look.  I was pleased at the time I painted it, but completely forgot its existence until this morning, when I lectured my classes.  I have always shied away from still life compositions in my watercolor attempts, and think it is time to give this genre a try.

Thanks for reading.

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2 Responses to “Andrew Wyeth in the Art History Class”

  1. Linda Halcomb Says:

    Really nice reflections in the side of the pail and great color overall. I like the simplicity of this. Like you I have never done still lifes but ambecoming interested in them – maybe because the Indiana landscape is winter is all brown and gray!


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