Learn more about the history of this esteemed family of American artists.
11/19/2021 News and Film, American Art
Who are the Wyeths? Though you might know this iconic American family of artists best through painter Andrew Wyeth, the Wyeth lineage in fact boasts generations of creative output—from studio art to engineering to music. Two auctions in Freeman’s December American Art Week feature works by both Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, significant opportunities for collectors to acquire works by these leading American artists. Tracing the Wyeth family tree helps us understand the trajectory of the work the Wyeths produced—and the legacy they leave behind.
When N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) was born in Massachusetts in the late 19th century, his story as an artist was in some ways already being written. His mother encouraged N.C.’s artistic inclinations following excellent early works, and she herself knew both Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—setting the stage for creative exploration. He left his native Massachusetts in 1902 to enroll at the Howard Pyle School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware, where he studied alongside other eager young artists under the tutelage of Pyle, the “Father of American Illustration.”
Though N.C. was prolific in both painting and illustration, he is perhaps best known for his work in the latter category. His first illustration commission was a cover for The Saturday Evening Post, the same Philadelphia magazine that later helped launch the career of fellow iconic American artist Norman Rockwell. He also garnered considerable acclaim for his work with the publishing company Charles Scribner’s Sons, particularly for his compelling illustrations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in 1911—his first commission for Scribner’s popular series of classic stories.
In 1908, Wyeth and his wife Carolyn relocated to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where they built a house and studio and raised children Andrew, Henriette, Carolyn, Ann, and Nathaniel. N.C. and Carolyn encouraged their children’s creative pursuits, and the Wyeth legacy followed.
Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), who was diligently taught to paint by his father, dove into art from an early age—and achieved overwhelming market success, in some ways eclipsing his father. The Johnson Place (Lot 49; estimate: $40,000-60,000) featured in Freeman’s December 5 American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists auction, highlights Andrew’s propensity for depicting his environs in Chadds Ford; he and his father often painted scenes from the same landscapes.
Lot 49 | Andrew Wyeth, The Johnson Place | $40,000-60,000 | © 2021 Andrew Wyeth / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
A realist in the age of Abstract Expressionism, Andrew was well-known for his landscapes and portraits both, including his instantly recognizable Christina’s World (1948) and upwards of 240 portraits of his neighbor Helga Testorf that have courted much publicity and controversy since their creation. Andrew’s output was inspired both by his father’s Brandywine School illustration and the traditional seaside landscapes and dark portraits of Winslow Homer.
Lot 61 | Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth, Four Christmas Cards | $4,000-6,000
Jamie Wyeth (1946-) is the youngest child of Andrew and his wife Betsy, and was raised to be a painter in Chadds Ford, likewise showing immense skill from a young age. Freeman’s December 7 Collect: American Art sale features a charming collaboration between father and son, Four Christmas Cards (Lot 61; estimate: $4,000-6,000), a glimpse into the productive intermingling of styles within the Wyeth lineage.
Lot 50 | Jamie Wyeth, Apple Basket | $40,000-60,000 | © 2021 Jamie Wyeth / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Yet Jamie charted a course all his own—influenced by his father and grandfather before him, but increasingly expressive. An early work, Apple Basket (Lot 50; estimate: $40,000-60,000)—a placid farmhouse scene depicted in muted greens and whites—shows clearly the influence of his father. Yet Saltwater Ice, executed some thirty years later, traces his individual arc as a painter. A highlight of Freeman’s American Art and Pennsylvania Impressionists sale (Lot 43; estimate: $200,000-300,000), the work displays the artist’s masterful and unexpected use of color, his focus on coastal wildlife, and a commitment to life’s eerie and in-between moments.
Lot 43 | Jamie Wyeth, Saltwater Ice | $200,000-300,000 | © 2021 Jamie Wyeth / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
The influence of the Wyeth family is deeply felt in the Philadelphia area; the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford feature both Andrew and N.C. Wyeth’s studios, a testament to the importance of the family on the Brandywine School and environs. The museum’s forthcoming 2024 exhibition Jamie Wyeth: Unsettled traces the artist’s development over a lifetime of creation within a distinguished artistic family. Three years before his death, Andrew was the subject of a major retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic, that assembled one hundred works organized chronologically, including new work that the artist continued to create until he died at age 91. The work of the Wyeth lineage continues to delight and fascinate viewers, as well as command significant market interest internationally.