(Check out the black coat collar pulled up tight on Andrea Kowch in the previous post. A coincidence or planned?)
In the previous post about Andrea Kowch, I mentioned how much her paintings are reminiscent of Andrew Wyeth's work. I thought I'd do a quick post on Wyeth.
Everyone probably recognizes this one. "Christina's World" is his most reproduced piece. Most people don't realize that the woman in the figure is paralyzed by polio from the waist down. She was very self reliant and would crawl through the fields by pulling herself. I first saw a reproduction of this painting at the Kerrville, Texas Public Library. Oh, how I loved that library!
He spent half his life between his homes in Pennsylvania and Maine. He was a realist, and a regional painter, focusing on the people and landscape around him. Wyeth's landscapes captured the bare bones of rolling meadows in winter. A large portion of his work has an austere, pared down feel. He's a master at showing the sharp contrast between empty fields and barren hills and lonely figures. The people never really populate the landscapes, they often seem like they've been abandoned in these bare settings.
One of the most fascinating sets of his paintings are "The Helga Pictures". Wyeth completed over 240 paintings and drawings of his neighbor's wife, Helga Testorf. The unusual part is that neither Wyeth's wife nor Testorf's husband knew she was posing for the paintings. She posed for him from 1971 to 1985, and Wyeth stored the art at a friend's home.
Many of the paintings were nudes, which fueled speculation that the two had been lovers. Such public scrutiny upset both Helga and Wyeth's wife, and led to strain in their marriages. Wyeth denied they had ever been intimate, but the two remained close until his death. Helga even helped care for him in his later years.
Although the paintings included many nudes, they don't feel sexual. Wyeth treats Helga's body much like the Pennsylvania landscape. He conveys planes and angles and the topography of her form. He paints each strand of her braided hair the way he paints grains of wheat in his paintings of fields.
My favorite Wyeth pieces are done in egg tempera, an exacting medium that uses quickly drying egg yolk mixed with pigment.
Each color has to be laid on in tiny strokes, which lends itself well to capturing things like strands of hair highlighted by sunlight. Look at the intricate hatching under the ear and the exact shapes of the knit collar at her neck.
It's intriguing since the relationship didn't seem to be romantic in nature. That's quite a secret to keep for 14 years isn't it?