N. C. Wyeth: A Retrospectiveby Matthew Innis |
Well known during the 20th century for his bold, imaginative illustrations that brought new characterizations to classic stories such as Treasure Island and The Boy’s King Arthur, N. C. Wyeth vigorously pursued parallel interests in painting landscapes, seascapes, portraits, still lifes, murals, and advertising images throughout his career. N. C. Wyeth: A Retrospective will be the first exhibition to examine in depth the entirety of Wyeth’s oeuvre, repositioning him within the greater context of early 20th century American visual culture.
A master of many styles and a brilliant colorist, Wyeth employed the skills honed in his illustration work to address various thematic and stylistic currents running through the first five decades of the twentieth century. While incorporating the best of Wyeth’s illustrations, the exhibition will also feature aspects of his art that until now have garnered less scholarly attention, significantly expanding the arc of his multi-faceted career.
Organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and two partner institutions, N. C. Wyeth: A Retrospective will include approximately 70 paintings and drawings selected from major museums and private collections. A number of objects from the artist’s studio collection, ranging from Native American and Western artifacts to a first edition of Treasure Island, will also be included. The accompanying catalogue will contain essays by scholars who will explore relevant issues. Christine B. Podmaniczky, Curator for N. C. Wyeth Collections and Historic Properties at the Brandywine River Museum of Art, for example, will discuss how Wyeth’s tempera painting Island Funeral developed from a proposed illustration to one of the artist’s late, great masterpieces. Douglas B. Dowd, Professor of Art & American Culture Studies and Faculty Director of the DB Dowd Modern Graphic History Library at Washington University, St. Louis, will examine the paradox of how Wyeth’s advertising imagery—evocative of a golden past—at the same time marketed contemporary products and services.
Generations of readers grew up with stories “Illustrated by N. C. Wyeth”—his name was as renowned as the authors whose stories he pictured. This exhibition will show, however, that exciting, enduring illustrations were only part of Wyeth’s legacy. Today, museum visitors and even many scholars tend to recognize him as Andrew Wyeth’s father, another siloed descriptor that also disregards the complete scope of his work. Recently the art world and the art market have been taking a fresh look at N. C. Wyeth’s art and achievements, and this exhibition will be a landmark of that assessment.