Tuesday, March 08, 2022

Obstinate Artists Who Succeeded in the Modern Era by Sticking to Tradition: Andrew Wyeth

Recently I visited the Brandywine Museum in Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, which is a showcase for the work of the great American artist, Andrew Wyeth, 1917-2009.

The Brandywine Museum
Seeing so many of his works in one place has inspired me to write an occasional series on artists (some still living) who have been successful by painting beautifully and well, drawing on a traditional approach to painting. Each has been successful in selling and making a living from his work because he knew that even in this era of Marxist propaganda (that seeks to destroy traditional art as emblematic of white patriarchy), beauty will appeal to ordinary people and will sell!

The Mill
In many ways, Wyeth’s approach is similar to that developed by the Baroque of the 17th century. He is content to leave large areas of the painting muted in color, rendering them tonally, and then giving more color and contrast in those areas of primary contrast. He handles this balance masterfully. Any artist who can do this would be able to paint wonderful liturgical art too, for this style is originally derived from forms developed for the liturgy.

Many of his paintings are in the egg tempera medium, the same one that icon painters use. This dries very quickly and is difficult to blend. In order to create a blurred effect, Wyeth tends to treat the paint as crayon which he blends, using multiple strokes that become more dispersed in thee areas he wants to be more diffuse. I think it is interesting that despite the fact that large parts of his paintings are brown, black, and white, we don’t sense a lack of color, because he knows the crucial focal points in which he must supply it. He also paints beautiful watercolors. In the above painting, there is some pale blue in the glove!

Wyeth’s success as a painter - his work was always popular, and he was recognized in his lifetime with awards from the American government - demonstrates to us artists that if we produce work of high enough quality, we can succeed. And if we are not successful... it is most likely because we are not good enough and should aim to get better! I have no patience for artists who blame their lack of success on the refusal of people to commission or buy their work.
I hope that readers can distinguish the watercolors, such as the ones above and below, and one right at the bottom of this post, from the tempera paintings, given the description of the style Wyeth uses in tempera.

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