Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Illustrators - N.C. Wyeth

Once upon a time, there was a family of artists in Pennsylvania's most beautiful valley. Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945), the first to arrive in the Brandywine Valley, came to study with Howard Pyle, and the similarities are evident at a glance; lush, richly colored paintings that are just fantastic enough to be thrilling and just realistic enough to be stirring. N.C. was just the start, though. Two daughters and one son became artists, one daughter a composer. Andrew, his most famous son, had a son who also became an artist.

I have mixed emotions about the Wyeths; it is possible to get a little sick of local heroes. When you're from Philadelphia, there's a certain level of exhaustion surrounding Quakers, Ben Franklin and cheesesteaks. Never soft pretzels. But you see my point. There's something insufferably smug about the Wyeth franchise in the lovely, rolling countryside south of the city. The adorable and disturbingly pristine former grist mill that houses a collection of their work, and which exists as the Wyeth museum to all visitors, though it's formally called the Brandywine River Museum. The endless books about them in local libraries and bookstores. You can get this temptation to mutter "You know, the really big artist was Andrew and he actually seemed to prefer his place in Maine."

But the point here is that N.C., the original artsy Wyeth, did fantastic horse pictures. An illustrator, he created iconic images for several children's classics, including The Yearling and Kidnapped. Despite the fantasy elements he used here for the Arthurian legend, he was also quite the Western artist, and his cowboy paintings are also worth looking up. One thing I find very charming is the tendency his horses have of having vividly expressive faces. Look at the rolling eyes of the black knight's horse below, or the alarmed face on the brown horse of the cover - here are horses who are not quite happy with the shenanigans their riders have gotten up to.

The Brandywine River Museum
The Brandywine River Museum's N.C. Wyeth Catalogue Raisonné


AC said...

These illustrations remind me of the carousel horses of my childhood. They had that same look of alarm or frustration. Sadly the original carousel from the early 1900s burned down in the 1990s. The modern replacement does a good job, although of course it's not quite the same.

Jane Badger said...

Ah - well this is my first exposure to the Wyeths, so I am suffering no over exposure of course, and I think they're wonderful images. Thanks so much for sharing them. I particularly like the second one overlooking the sea, though do wonder quite why the arm is flung up like that - a Canute moment?