A Different Look at Wyeth
“Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In,” a major exhibition on view at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., through Nov. 30, presents an enlightening and new approach to Andrew Wyeth’s work that investigates the artist’s fascination with windows, and considers Wyeth’s own statement that he was an “abstract artist.” Nancy Anderson, curator and head of the department of American and British paintings, and associate curator Charles Brock, from the National Gallery of Art, will present a lecture followed by a catalogue signing at the Brandywine Conservancy Museum of Art on July 23. The National Gallery of Art was given one of Andrew Wyeth’s most famous paintings, “Wind from the Sea” (1947), in 2009. Completed early in his career, the painting captured the moment when an ocean breeze flowing through an open window gently lifted tattered curtains. During the course of the next 60 years, Wyeth returned repeatedly to the subject of windows, producing more than 300 on this theme. Spare and elegant, these paintings are free of the narrative element associated with the artist’s better-known figural compositions. The abstract qualities of his work are therefore more readily apparent, and Wyeth emerges as an artist deeply concerned with the visual complexities posed by the transparency, symbolism, and geometric structure of windows.
“Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In” gathers, for the first time, aâ€¨ select group of Wyeth’s images of windows. Included in the exhibition are watercolor studies, executed quickly to capture a momentary impression, and tempera paintings created over an extended period of distillation and simplification. The exhibition begins with “Wind from the Sea” and proceeds to galleries of images that reflect his extended study of windows at other sites of particular interest, including the Olson house in Maine, the Kuerner farm in Pennsylvania, and his own Brandywine studio. Once heralded for his virtuoso draughtsmanship and poetic sensibility, Wyeth was later regarded by critics as an isolated, conservative figure out of step with his age. Believing that his work was misunderstood, he repeatedly described himself as an abstract painter and asserted that critics judged only the surface realism of his paintings, overlooking their underlying structure. After Wyeth died in January 2009, a reevaluation of his work began almost immediately. It is now apparent that Wyeth was, in fact, an artist as concerned with formal abstraction and existential darkness as were his contemporaries. He was a multifaceted artist who employed abstract pictorial devices—such as the window grid—to help distill compositions to their core emotion: “You can have the technique and paint the object,” he said, but “it’s what’s inside you, the way you translate the object—and that’s pure emotion. I think most people get to my work through the backdoor. They’re attracted by the realism and sense the emotion and the abstraction—and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion.” The exhibition, organized by the National Gallery of Art, will be seen only in Washington. But you can find the catalogue at the Brandywine. Register now. brandywinemuseum.org