Brandywine River Museum of Art- N.C. Wyeth Exhibition
N. C. Wyeth, Blubber Island, Port Clyde, Maine, tempera and
oil on hardboard, 1944, Brandywine River Museum of Art
N. C. Wyeth: New Perspectives, organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Portland Museum of Art (in Maine) is on display at the Brandywine Museum through Sept. 15. It heads up to Portland Oct. 4, 2019 through Jan. 12, 2020. My wife Alice and I drove up to see the exhibition last Friday. In a word it's super.
Sometimes we head into a show intending to spend more or less equal time with all the works. That didn't happen as I totally fell into the first two paintings I saw as soon as I entered the gallery.
First is the one above of a solemn rocky island adorned by a device the wall label identifies as a hydrographic signal. That signal lifts our eye up from the heavy mass of the rocks and gets us to look into the sky.
At first I wondered why the signal and the several seagulls flying off to the left felt so right. Then I realized that if your string the separate flying gulls together the arc of their flight mimics the exact shape of the top edge of the island.
Wyeth invented this formal link between flying birds and rocky solidity because he wanted us to see that there are connections even between the most opposite seeming qualities. This is the kind of hidden connection that the language of painting can articulate so well.
The other painting that got a hold of me is also from Brandywine Museum's collection, Nightfall. The wall label explains Wyeth based the painting on a neighboring farmer whose wife was dying. That's a likely reason for the unusual pose of the little girl looking back over her shoulder at the light in perhaps a bedroom window of her farmhouse.
N.C. Wyeth, Nightfall, tempera on panel, 1945, Brandywine
River Museum of Art
The farmer gazes pointedly at an unseen horizon. His mood feels intense and pointed even if it remains undecipherable to us.
While I was soaking this painting in what struck me was its incredible sensuality of textures from the farmer's weathered working hands to the gentle undulations of the ochre field behind the figures. The time is the close of the day and there's a poignant sense of things ending. Yet that field's richness of color suggests life potentially will spring forth once again.
I had a hard time leaving that painting.
N. C. Wyeth, The Fence Builders, oil on canvas, 1915
On a completely different note Wyeth's painting of men assembling a split rail fence intrigued me. I've always been attracted to these fences- they are a wonderful combination of irregularly shaped split rails with a hint of architectural precision.
I had painted just such a fence last year when I was near Buffalo, NY serving as the Artist In Residence for the Burchfield Penney Art Center. In the town of East Aurora, an area where the painter Charles Burchfield liked to make his landscapes, I found this lovingly preserved old split rail fence.
Philip Koch, Split Rail Fence, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches,
2018, Burchfield Penney Art Center, Buffalo, NY
I was always happy with this painting and am proud the Burchfield Penney Art Center acquired it for their permanent collection.
Here's the sign that greets you when you enter the Brandywine River Museum.