Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Andrew Wyeth

When Andrew Wyeth died last month, his work had slipped so far off the radar it was something of a surprise to find that he had lived that long. Nevertheless, Wyeth was both a popular and a great painter – two characteristics that do not always co-exist easily.

Throughout his career, Wyeth and the American modernist movement tried and failed to find common ground. The Museum of Modern Art even bought "Christina's World" in 1949, but Wyeth continued to be derided by the art establishment. I am sure time will now correct that situation.

In his home turf of Delaware, however, as with much of the rest of the country, he was revered. My sister-in-law (whose family were friends of the Wyeths) went to his memorial service last week and brought back this card, thinking I might enjoy it. (Apparently at the memorial service the photograph was blown up to epic size and had a stunning impact on all assembled.) Enjoy is hardly the word!

In addition to a long admiration for both Andrew and his son Jamie Wyeth’s work, this picture is one of my favorite Bruce Weber photographs. While Weber is best known as a fashion photographer, he is also a brilliant portraitist, particularly of artists. In this photograph he catches many of Wyeth’s characteristics with a visceral and elegant graphic punch – his orneriness, his patrician bearing, his iconoclastic status, his masculinity, his outsiderness in both senses of the word. It's one of those images that burns itself into your brain (and you can never look at a pea-coat again in quite the same way)!

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