Saturday, January 18, 2020

Strolling by Spruce Ledge...N.C.Wyeth...

Strolling by Spruce Ledge,
Peering at The Doryman
at in the N.C. Wyeth New Perspectives exhibition at the
Portland (Maine) Museum of Art on January 12, 2019,
painted January 16, 2020
7" x 5" (w x h), Daniel Smith, Schmincke Horadam,
and Winsor & Newton watercolors, selected for light fastness
and permanence, and Uniball waterproof fade proof ink
on 140 lb. Fabriano Artistico cold press rough 100%
cotton extra white watercolor paper, framed, $150

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives

N. C. Art Then, N. C. Art Now
by Bruce McMillan

He got to stand outside or
in his studio, painting,
so many years ago, while
pausing and contemplating.

We get to stand inside a
fine art museum, peering,
so many years later, while,
pausing and contemplating.

Note: The painting on the left, Bright and Fair, also called Eight Bells, Port Clyde, Maine, is of N. C. Wyeth's home in Port Clyde, which he called Eight Bells in honor of Winslow Homers painting, Eight Bells, (see the Homer painting HERE). See the 1936 N. C. Wyeth painting in the exhibition of his home in detail along with a photograph of him painting it HERE, oil on canvas, 52" x 42" (w x h), 1936, Farnsworth Museum, Rockland Maine. See a 1922 H. C. Wyeth painting of the same view of his home with a photo of him painting it HERE.

Strange but True Fact
N. C. Wyeth's mother's maiden name was Henriette Zirngiebel, and ironically, it was his mother who encouraged his art career while his father, Andrew Newell Wyeth II, called an artist's life "shiftless, almost criminal."

The Guard

Dark Harbor Fishermen
N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), American
Tempera on hardboard (Renaissance Panel),
38" x 35" (w x h), 1943
Portland Museum of Art
Bequest of Elizabeth B. Noyce, 1996
Catalogue Notes:
Wyeth had painted the same composition in oil on canvas in 1935, a painting he exhibited under the title of "Herring!". By 1944, the artist was trying to sell this painting. In April, the price during the National Academy exhibition was $2,000. Later in the year, at the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts exhibition the price had dropped to $1,500.

The frame, carved by Maurice Fincken, was probably cut down to fit this painting. Fincken's name appears in Wyeth's address book, "107 Wayne Ave., / Aldan, Pa."

See this 1943 painting done in tempura in detail at the Portland Museum of Art website HERE or in the Brandywine database website HERE. See the first draft 1935 painting first done in oil, in the Brandywine database website HERE. It's in the Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth Collection. Both paintings were painted from his same charcoal sketch. See N.C. Wyeth's charcoal sketch for this painting HERE

In a Dream
I Meet General Washington

N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), American
Oil on canvas, 79" x 72" (w x h), 1930
Brandywine River Museum of Art

Curatorial Note:
In 1930, atop scaffolding to complete a mural of George Washington for a bank in Trenton, New Jersey, N.C. Wyeth lost his balance and almost fell 30 feet to the marble floor. The shock resulted in a dream that haunted him until he committed his vision to canvas. In that dream, Wyeth watched the Battle of Brandywine unfold before him as Washington narrated. The site of the battle is not far from Wyeth's studio, and with his lifelong love of history he was familiar with details of the encounter.

To dispel the dream which he described as "amazingly vivid," Wyeth painted himself on shaky scaffolding in the foreground, palette and brushes in hand, speaking to Washington. British and American troops march across an autumnal colored landscape, and Major General Lafayette appears in the woods on the left. In the lower left corner, young Andrew Wyeth, accompanied by his dog, sits sketching as he often did in his father's studio.
Wyeth wrote to his brother, "This is the painting that I am certain excels anything done to date." Although the painting was based on a dream, Wyeth felt, "this fact in no way interferes with its abstract attraction as a painting to be engaged for color, pattern, technique and intriguing interest."

See this painting in detail at the Brandywine website HERE.
Strolling by Black Spruce Ledge
(Lobstering Off Black Spruce Ledge),
left, and peering at Lobsterman
(The Doryman), right.

See Black Spruce Ledge (Lobstering Off Black Spruce Ledge) in detail HERE.

See the artist's charcoal sketch for this painting HERE. A lantern slide of this drawing was probably used in the transfer of the design to the panels for both 1939 and 1941 versions.

Curatorial remarks:
In the summer of 1939, N.C. Wyeth began working in tempera, a medium he learned about from his son-in-law Peter Hurd and his son Andrew. In late August he wrote, "I start tomorrow on my first tempera panel for myself. I shall have a full month to do what I want." Later in the fall, he wrote to Peter Hurd "Three new Maine temperas you haven't seen deal with the lobstermen..." One of the three was this painting which the artist sold to Forbes Lithographic Mfg. Company for $750 in January, 1940.
Forbes reproduced the image as an art print and a calendar image, both entitled "Lobstering Off Black Spruce Ledge." Wyeth completed another version of the painting in 1941.
The 1939 charcoal drawing appears in a lantern slide, that was undoubtedly used in the transfer of the design from paper to canvas panel.
In an undated and unattributed review of New York 1939 (probably by Henry McBride, in the New York Sun, BRM library), the author felt that this picture demonstrated the influence of modern photography on the artist's work, "...the clouds in the picture...might almost have been first caught by the camera, so like they are to the effects seen in prize-winning photos."

Studying The Lobsterman
(The Doryman)

I observed that this painting on loan from the MET in New York was one of the most studied in the exhibition, viewers pausing a long time to take it in.

The Lobsterman (The Doryman)
N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), American
Tempera on hardboard, 47" x 23" (w x h), 1944
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Gift of Amanda K. Berls, 1975

The doryman was N.C. Wyeth's son Andrew Wyeth's friend and model Walter Anderson (1923-1987). In September 1944, N. C. Wyeth wrote to Andrew Wyeth, "My two panels, plus the one of Walt which I have just about completed are unquestionably 'way and beyond anything I've ever done in or of Maine. My "Walt" is probably the best." This and two other temperas Wyeth did during his eight-week stay in Port Clyde during the late summer of 1944 were done on gesso panels that Wyeth prepared himself, rather than the manufactured Renaissance Panels he used for commercial work at that time.

The painting's presence in the 1945 Commencement Day exhibition is noted in a letter Wyeth wrote to his daughter Henriette: "A Mr. McCann from Greenport, L.I. (an alumnus) bought "Walt in the dory" from my small display. I kind of hated to let it go but he paid my price so I couldn't refuse."

To the first owner, Thomas McCann, Wyeth wrote "It may be of interest for you to know that this painting is done with egg tempera on a wood panel. It is varnished with Damar and should last as well as the works done during the early Renaissance. The picture was done in Port Clyde, Maine, and the island back of the fisherman is Caldwell's, just at the mouth of the Georges River. The doryman is an actual character--and an old friend of mine--a flaxen-haired lobsterman named Walt Anderson."

Even during the N. C. Wyeth's lifetime, the painting, The Lobsterman (The Doryman), had alternate titles: The Doryman, In Penobscot Bay, Caldwell's Island, and Off Caldwell's Island.

See this at the MET Museum, New York, web page HERE.

See this at the Brandywine Database HERE.

The Brandywine River Museum holds a drawing study in charcoal, In Penobscot Bay, 1944.
See this charcoal study HERE.

On a personal note, I was the island caretaker for McGee Island off Port Clyde, from 1973-1975. Walter Anderson was the local calm digger usually found at the dock where I came ashore to pick up the mail and groceries. Walt would stand next to my son, 4-then-5-year old Brett, hold his hand out to measure his height, and comment on how much he'd gown since the last trip in. My acquaintance with Walt led me to write the following letter-to-the-editor, which appeared in DownEast magazine.

The Painter and the Pirate, a twelve-page article with paintings by Andrew Wyeth of his friend and subject, Walter Anderson, appeared in the September 2001 issue of DownEast. The following letter was published in the November issue.

November 2001
Vol. 48, Number 4
Letters to the Editor
Andrew Wyeth's Friend
Thanks for the well-written article on Walter Anderson by Edgar Allen Beem. It brought back some nice memories. From 1973 to 1975 I was an island caretaker off Port Clyde, and on my trips ashore for mail and supplies I always stopped to chat with the local character, a fellow named Walt, who hung around the dock wearing his distinctive, well-worn clamming boots. He had all sorts of tales about the islands, including the one I was working on.
Many months after I'd gotten to know Walt, he mentioned he was looking forward to seeing his friend, Andy, who was coming up to visit and paint. I wondered to myself whose house they were going to paint, but before I could ask, I figured out from the context of his conversation that Walt wasn't talking about a house painter. Then I realized his Andy was none other than Andrew Wyeth. I wasn't sure if this was a tall tale or not, but there was a real nugget of sincerity in the way he talked about his friend and their childhood together. Two days later as I was boating back to my island, I noticed a painter out painting on one of the islands.
Thanks to Walt, I knew who it was, and thanks to Ed Beem's fine article now I know even a bit more.
Bruce McMillan
Shapleigh, Maine
Online HERE.

Departing the Exhibition
I admired N. C.'s exquisite and unusual use of light. I said good-bye to Mother and the cove.
(Treasure Island, page 58, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1911), Alternate Title(s):Hawkins Leaves Home; Jim Hawkins Leaves Home; Jim Hawkins Leaves Town, oil on canvas, 36" x 47" (w x h), 1911.

Curatorial Remarks:
N. C. Wyeth had members of the Taylor family of Chadds Ford model for Mrs. Hawkins and Jim. Fifteen-year-old Walter Taylor posed for Jim Hawkins; Walter died tragically at the age of 18 in 1914. Margaret Taylor posed for Mrs. Hawkins. This painting was one of three the artist chose to represent his work in the first exhibition of paintings by pupils of Howard Pyle, held in Wilmington, DE in 1912.

Wyeth himself had repainted portions of the picture by 1920. In a January 17, 1920 letter, Wyeth mentioned to former Pyle student Sidney Chase that a particular varnish he had used liberally about 1911 was yellowing badly; as an example, he cited "Jim Hawkins leaves Home." He repainted the "illuminated" section of the image, "on account of the blues turning snuffy green and the clear whites turning yellow," "Just a word about the varnish..."
See this painting in detail on the Brandywine website HERE.

I departed the exhibition,
leaving the guard to patrol the gallery.

The show's catalogue book, N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives, Yale University Press, 216 pages, reprint edition (June 25, 2019), at the museum is $45, but is $24.50 on amazon with free next day shipping using amazon prime HERE.

The book's cover features his painting, The Harbor at Herring Gut, 1925, seen HERE. It features, familiar to me, Port Clyde.

Curatorial notes:
Two weeks after the death of his mother, the artist wrote to his father on August 27, 1925, in reference to this painting, "I believe it marks an important epoch in my painting--with one lash I have cut my moorings to certain old habits and feel free now to develop along a much larger line....I feel that the intensity of the past weeks with you and Mama played a tremendous part in sustaining my courage to carry on this work."

The painting, strikingly different from previous work, incorporates many of the principles expounded by Christian Brinton, friend and art critic who collected Russian folk art. Despite the element of fantasy, Mosquito Head, the Marshall Point Light, several distinctive buildings in Port Clyde and the steam boat "Governor Douglas" are all recognizable. An anonymous reviewer for the Wilmington newspaper Every Evening saw the influence of 19th century bird's eye views.

In an undated letter to friend Edward K. Robinson, Wyeth wrote, "I am working much more intensively than ever and really believe that I am pulling into an idiom of expression that will amount to something...I am enclosing three photos of three canvases done in the past year which slightly indicate my direction....You will perhaps recognize a "composite" or inventory of Port Clyde. (This canvas has stirred considerable interest in two different shows.)" The letter contained a photograph of the painting, "The Harbor at Herring Gut," on the reverse of the photo Wyeth had written "Port Clyde--An Impression."
See the show on the Portland Museum of Art website HERE.

I shared some notes on the dory paintings of N.C. and Andrew Wyeth with Carol Douglas, which she expanded into a fascinating post, Beautiful Glimpses of the Past HERE.

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