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Exhibit Illuminates Three Generations Of Wyeths

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Works of art by three generations of the iconic Wyeth family are on display at the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont.

Here & Now co-host Robin Young gets a tour of the “Wyeth Vertigo“ exhibit from museum director and co-curator Thomas Denenberg.

“Vertigo is the key to understanding the Wyeths,” Denenberg tells Young. “All three generations of Wyeths — N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth — like to knock you off your pins a little bit to make you dizzy. And they do this by employing unusual perspective, extreme perspective, in their paintings — paintings that look up, look down, in and out of odd spaces.”

Details On The Slideshow Images

Descriptions provided by Thomas Denenberg & Joyce Hill Stoner, curators of the “Wyeth Vertigo” exhibit at the Shelburne Museum.

Andrew Wyeth

Soaring, 1942-1950

Tempera on masonite

Shelburne Museum

Museum Purchase, From the Collection of Maxim Karolik, 1961-186.6

A product of Wyeth’s interest in the timelessness of the natural world, Soaring is also a frightening indictment of modern life. Initially conceived during World War II and completed as Cold War tensions permeated American life, the painting casts a Pennsylvania farm as vulnerable, almost insignificant. The circling turkey buzzards not only create a vertiginous scene, but they also serve as forbidding avatars for a generation newly accustomed to images of bombers in flight and mortal threats from above. Soaring proved to be one of Shelburne Museum founder Electra Havemeyer Webb’s last acquisitions before her death in 1960 and, in the years since, has become an icon of American painting.

Jamie Wyeth

The Headlands of Monhegan, Maine, 2007

Oil on canvas

Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Jamie Wyeth once wrote “I hate art colonies and wouldn’t be caught dead working on one.” Monhegan, however, is an exception, a storied island that has attracted painters for generations and where Wyeth has owned a house for decades. He avoids the tourist crowds by leaving the island in the summer and taking up residence again in the “off season.” As one of the few painters familiar with Monhegan in late October, Jamie is perhaps uniquely equipped to conjure a vision of Halloween pumpkins tumbling off the cliffs of the rugged island.

Jamie Wyeth

Comet, 1997

Oil on panel

Private Collector, New Hope, Pennsylvania

Comet reminds us that a “bird’s eye view” is not always from the air. The painting depicts a lighthouse, specifically the light on Jamie Wyeth’s Southern Island, from the perspective of a nesting seagull. Sunlight illuminates the house from behind and casts the façade in shadow, giving the building a looming, ominous character that is underscored by the low vantage point. Wyeth frequently paints his island home and often employs gulls as surrogates, imbuing the birds with human motivations and emotions.

N. C. Wyeth

Dark Harbor Fishermen, 1943

Egg tempera on panel

Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1996.38.63

In Dark Harbor Fishermen, N. C. Wyeth invites the viewer to look down on a dory brimming with bait fish as if standing on a dock. Three other boats provide an edgy geometric frame while a flock of gulls wheeling in flight activate and agitate the scene. Wyeth, one of the nation’s foremost illustrators, well knew how to capture the eye and tell a timeless story — in this case, the age-old narrative of taking sustenance from the sea.

N.C. Wyeth

Deep Cove Lobster Man, 1938

Oil on gessoed board (Renaissance Panel)

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Joseph E. Temple Fund

N. C. Wyeth revered the Maine painter Winslow Homer (1836-1910). In fact, when Wyeth purchased a home for himself and his family in Port Clyde, Maine in 1920, he christened the property “Eight Bells” in honor of a famous Homer painting. Deep Cove Lobster Man demonstrates the debt Wyeth owed to Homer in his exploration of the people and customs of the rugged Maine coast.

N. C. Wyeth

Just as the Baby’s Feet Cleared the Ground, 1923

Oil on canvas

Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Gift of Carolyn Wyeth, 1976.13

Just as the Baby’s Feet Cleared the Ground is an archetype of the muscular style that made N. C. Wyeth critical to American visual culture in the opening decades of the 20th century. The foremost illustrator of juvenile literature and popular tales, Wyeth frequently employed exaggerated perspective in the service of narrative — a trait that he passed along to his son and his grandson. This painting initially served as an illustration for a story in Hearst’s Magazine, a frequent venue for Wyeth’s art.

Jamie Wyeth

Portrait of a Vulture, 1997

Combined media on toned woven paper

Private Collection

Portrait of a Vulture illuminates the artistic continuities and differences in the Wyeth family. As in his father’s painting, Soaring, Wyeth depicts a flock of vultures flying over a landscape, but has painted it on a smaller scale with a cropped composition, creating a more intimate and therefore more disconcerting scene. He also places greater emphasis on the vulture’s head in the foreground, emphasizing an interest in animal portraiture.

Jamie Wyeth

Spindrift, 2010

Oil on canvas

Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection

Jamie Wyeth’s Spindrift is a highly personal narrative. Often considered a response to his father’s work, Soaring, Spindrift accentuates the vulnerability of an American home, in this instance, the own artist’s house at Southern Island Light. The perceived threat this time, however, is not a flock of circling vultures, but the tempestuous Atlantic Ocean crashing against the island, emphasizing Wyeth’s interest in the age-old interaction between man and nature.

N. C. Wyeth

The Drowning, 1936

Oil on canvas

Collection of the Brandywine River Museum, Bequest of Carolyn Wyeth, 1996

Reminiscent of the great dory paintings of Winslow Homer (1836-1910) from the mid-1880s, in The Drowning, Wyeth chose to paint a mystery. Even without the explicit title, the empty craft proximate to the rocky island speaks volumes about the danger of life along the Maine coast. A life has been lost, but the viewer is given few clues to the dory owner’s identity. Once again, Wyeth employs a distorted bird’s eye view to capture the drama of a tragic scene — a theme that his son and grandson would explore repeatedly in the course of their careers.

Andrew Wyeth

The Hunter, 1943

Tempera on Masonite

Lent by the Toledo Museum of Art; Elizabeth C. Mau Bequest Fund

Originally painted as a cover for The Saturday Evening Post, Wyeth’s unusual composition for The Hunter helped the artist capture the national imagination. The sycamore tree, rather than the hunter, is the protagonist in Wyeth’s visual narrative lending the painting a sense of mystery. Wyeth’s use of a bird’s eye view through the sparse autumnal leaves dramatically increases the tension—the viewer is literally flying through the branches without a stable perch.

Andrew Wyeth

Winter Fields, 1942

Tempera on panel

Whitney Museum of American Art

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Benno C. Schmidt in memory of Mr. Josiah Marvel, first owner of this picture

77.91

Andrew Wyeth discovered a dead crow behind his father’s Chadds Ford studio and immediately recognized the power of the image. The coal black bird is in stark contrast to the spectrum of earth tones that make up the Pennsylvania countryside and Winter Fields is painted from a worm’s eye view that requires the visitor to simultaneously look down upon the dead crow while looking uphill toward a farm on the ridge. Use of this disconcerting perspective reinforces the authority of an uncomfortable image of the last stage in the voyage of life.

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Andrew Wyeth,  Soaring, 1942-1950, Tempera on Masonite, 48 x 87 inches. Shelburne Museum  © Andrew Wyeth. Photograph by J. David Bohl
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Andrew Wyeth, Soaring, 1942-1950, Tempera on Masonite, 48 x 87 inches. Shelburne Museum © Andrew Wyeth. Photograph by J. David Bohl
N.C. Wyeth,  Deep Cove Lobster Man, ca. 1938, Oil on gessoed board (Renaissance panel), 16 ¼ x 22 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Joseph E. Temple Fund
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N.C. Wyeth, Deep Cove Lobster Man, ca. 1938, Oil on gessoed board (Renaissance panel), 16 ¼ x 22 3/4 inches. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia, Joseph E. Temple Fund
Jamie Wyeth, Gull in Flight, Shrieking, 2006/2009, Watercolor, gouache and gesso on toned rag board, 16 1/8 x 16 ¼ inches. Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection, ©Jamie Wyeth
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Jamie Wyeth, Gull in Flight, Shrieking, 2006/2009, Watercolor, gouache and gesso on toned rag board, 16 1/8 x 16 ¼ inches. Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection, ©Jamie Wyeth
N.C. Wyeth,  Just as the Baby’s Feet Cleared the Ground, 1923, Oil on canvas, 45 x 24 inches. Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Gift of Carolyn Wyeth, 1976.13
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N.C. Wyeth, Just as the Baby’s Feet Cleared the Ground, 1923, Oil on canvas, 45 x 24 inches. Hunter Museum of American Art, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Gift of Carolyn Wyeth, 1976.13
Jamie Wyeth, Portrait of Vulture, 1997, Combined mediums on toned woven paper, 28 x 31 inches, Private Collection, ©Jamie Wyeth
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Jamie Wyeth, Portrait of Vulture, 1997, Combined mediums on toned woven paper, 28 x 31 inches, Private Collection, ©Jamie Wyeth
Jamie Wyeth, Spindrift, 2010, Oil on canvas, 40 x 46 inches. Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection, ©Jamie Wyeth
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Jamie Wyeth, Spindrift, 2010, Oil on canvas, 40 x 46 inches. Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection, ©Jamie Wyeth
N.C. Wyeth, The Drowning, 1936. Oil on canvas, 42 x 48 1/8 inches. Collection of Brandywine River Museum, Bequest of Carolyn Wyeth, 1996
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N.C. Wyeth, The Drowning, 1936. Oil on canvas, 42 x 48 1/8 inches. Collection of Brandywine River Museum, Bequest of Carolyn Wyeth, 1996
Andrew Wyeth , The Hunter, 1943, Tempera on Masonite, 33 x 33 7/8 inches. Lent by the Toledo Museum of Art;  Elizabeth C. Mau Bequest Fund. ©Andrew Wyeth
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Andrew Wyeth , The Hunter, 1943, Tempera on Masonite, 33 x 33 7/8 inches. Lent by the Toledo Museum of Art; Elizabeth C. Mau Bequest Fund. ©Andrew Wyeth
Andrew  Wyeth, Winter Fields, 1942, Tempera on panel, 17 ¼ x 41 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Benno C. Schmidt, in memory of Mr. Josiah Marvel, first owner of this picture 77.91 ©Andrew Wyeth
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Andrew Wyeth, Winter Fields, 1942, Tempera on panel, 17 ¼ x 41 inches. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Benno C. Schmidt, in memory of Mr. Josiah Marvel, first owner of this picture 77.91 ©Andrew Wyeth
N.C. Wyeth, Dark Harbor Fishermen, 1943, Egg tempera on Renaissance panel, 35 x 38 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1996.38.63
/
N.C. Wyeth, Dark Harbor Fishermen, 1943, Egg tempera on Renaissance panel, 35 x 38 inches. Portland Museum of Art, Maine. Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1996.38.63
Jamie Wyeth, Comet, 1997, Oil on canvas, 48 x 40 inches.  Private Collector, New Hope, Pennsylvania, ©Jamie Wyeth
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Jamie Wyeth, Comet, 1997, Oil on canvas, 48 x 40 inches. Private Collector, New Hope, Pennsylvania, ©Jamie Wyeth