“Here I am in the great West, and I’ll tell you it is the great West.” – N.C. Wyeth
You have questions about N.C. Wyeth … we have the answers. Here’s everything you need to know about Wyeth in a nutshell.
Q: What is N.C. Wyeth best known for?
A: Newell Convers Wyeth is best known as a renowned illustrator of the early 20th century depicting literary and real-life heroes. Although Wyeth is known for his scenes of legendary men he also contributed to the definition of the iconic American cowboy. Wyeth’s faithful and vibrant Western works were based on personal experience revealing the true spirit of the West.
Q: Did Wyeth travel to the American West?
A: Yes. The New Englander traveled west three times. Following the advice of his mentor, Howard Pyle, Wyeth knew he needed to see the West himself, to gain the personal knowledge that would create the ideas for his art. His first trip took him to the Gill Ranch, east of Denver, Colorado, to join the fall round-up in October 1904. Wyeth sought to prove his strength and resilience against the hardships of a rough and wild life. Yet, he had another purpose; he sought to understand the life of the West so that he could portray it honestly in paintings intended as illustrations for books and magazines. His second trip, again to Colorado, occurred in 1906. His third, and final, trip was planned, but he only made it as far as Chicago and Kansas City.
Q: How many Wyeth works do you have in your collection?
A: The Whitney Western Art Museum has 7 original paintings by Wyeth in our collection. Of those seven, six of them were a result of his first trip west in 1904 and produced as illustrations for the short narrative, “A Day with the Round-Up, An Impression,” published by Scribner’s Magazine in March 1906. Although Wyeth completed these paintings in his eastern studio in 1905, he dated all the paintings from the series 1904, probably to emphasize the year of their genesis in experience.
Q: Did Wyeth have any formal training?
A: Yes. He attended Massachusetts Normal Art School. It was here that instructor Richard Andrews urged Wyeth toward illustration. Wyeth also studied with Eric Pape and Charles W. Reed and painted with George L. Noyes in Annisquam, Massachusetts during the summer of 1901. Wyeth joined Howard Pyle’s School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware in 1902. Pyle emphasized the use of dramatic effects in painting and the importance of sound and personal knowledge of one’s subject – teachings Wyeth quickly assimilated and employed throughout his career.
Q: How did Wyeth’s work evolve throughout his career?
A: Throughout his career, Wyeth demonstrated his ability to convey dramatic meaning in his paintings, no matter what the source of the subject might be or whether he was illustrating a pre-existing text. The distinction between painting and illustration was an important one, with illustration carrying a negative connotation that Wyeth felt keenly all his life. Even though the commissioned work earned him income to support his family, he tried to escape the confines of textual limitations with personal paintings that included landscapes, still lifes, and portraits. From lyrical landscapes in an Impressionist style to powerful portraits of fishermen that recall the work of the American Regionalist artists, Wyeth experimented throughout his career with a wide variety of subjects and styles. However, he never attained the personal satisfaction or public recognition that he sought – to be known as a painter rather than illustrator.
Q: What influenced and inspired Wyeth’s art?
A: Wyeth had little time for color sketches while cowpunching and seems to have forgotten to bring crucial paint, so instead he made pencil sketches in the evening and took photographs, but more importantly he literally soaked up experiences that would be remembered when he faced an easel with paints, brush and palette knife.
Q: Did Wyeth market his own work?
A: Yes. He established himself through commissions for Scribner’s and Harper’s Weekly. Even before traveling to the West, he had already gained success as an illustrator of cowboy life. He created images for advertisements, calendars and posters for a number of companies, including Coca-Cola, Steinway & Sons, Aunt Jemima, and General Electric, among others. His work appeared in many of the most popular magazines of the period, such as Century, Harper’s Monthly, Ladies’ Home Journal, McClure’s, Outing, and Scribner’s. By 1907, Wyeth was heralded in Outing Magazine as “one of our greatest, if not our greatest, painter of American outdoor life.”
In 1911, Charles Scribner’s Sons publishing house employed Wyeth to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, his first commission in Scribner’s popular series of classic stories. The success of Treasure Island ensured Wyeth a long career with Scribner’s, illustrating many classic stories. Among the most famous titles are Kidnapped (1913), The Black Arrow (1916), The Boy’s King Arthur (1917), The Mysterious Island (1918), The Last of the Mohicans (1919), The Deerslayer (1925), and The Yearling (1939). He created illustrations for other publishers as well, for books such as Robin Hood (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1917); Robinson Crusoe (New York: Cosmopolitan, 1920); Rip Van Winkle (Philadelphia: David McKay, 1921); Men of Concord (Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1936); and Trending Into Maine (Boston: Little, Brown, 1938). Wyeth also enjoyed a national reputation as a muralist. Most of his murals have survived, but many are no longer at their original east coast sites.
Q: Where did Wyeth live?
A: Wyeth was born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882. He studied in Massachusetts before joining Howard Pyle’s School of Art in Delaware. In 1911, he bought land in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania where he painted, illustrated, and raised a family until his death in 1945.
Q: Did Wyeth’s children pursue the arts?
A: Yes. Through his imagination and personality, Wyeth helped shape the next two generations of artists in the Wyeth family. He lived long enough to see all of his children excel in the arts and sciences. Three of his five children – Andrew, Henriette and Carolyn – were painters. Andrew is recognized as one of the most important American artists of the 20th century. Wyeth’s eldest son, Nathaniel, became a mechanical engineer and his youngest daughter, Ann, a musician. N.C. Wyeth’s grandson, Jamie, continues the Wyeth family artistic legacy. Wyeth’s daughters, Henriette and Ann, and granddaughter, Ann Breslford, all married artists.
Q: Where can I go to learn more about N.C. Wyeth?
A: You can visit the Brandywine River Museum of Art, which maintain the N.C. Wyeth Catalogue Raisonné. http://collections.brandywine.org/ncwcr