Born and raised in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, the only art training Andrew Wyeth ever received was from his father, famed illustrator and muralist N.C. Wyeth, who taught him draftsmanship while passing on to him his love for the countryside. From his father, Wyeth commented that he learned how life and art are integral and that living and painting are inseparable.
Wyeth came to work in three mediums, tempera, drybrush, and watercolor, calling the last the best expression of the “freer side of my nature”, whereby there is the more spontaneity of execution and less predetermination of outcome. Since Wyeth saw and reflected in nature the current state of his own mind, he felt little need to travel much for artistic stimulus. Rather, he experienced limitless revelations from the same setting, the same pond, hillock or tree, rendering specific aspects of his natural surroundings with heightened details suggestive of Henry Farrer and Fidelia Bridges, 19th century artists associated with the American Pre-Raphaelite movement. Wyeth discovered the new in the familiar, the ever-animate landscape pregnant with the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the colloquialism of Robert Frost.
Andrew Wyeth continued his exploration of domestic realism, painting both interiors and exteriors of the farm and industrial buildings of the Pennsylvania countryside, and, in the summers, the clapboard houses and stark landscape of the Maine coast. After his father N.C. Wyeth died in a 1945 car accident, he began to incorporate images of people into his paintings, most famously his neighbor Helga Testorf.
Throughout his career Wyeth relied on the Northern European tradition of an empirical observation of nature, and greatly admired the aesthetic values and graphic work of Albrecht Dürer. Wyeth often noted: "I paint my life." Yet Wyeth came of age during the onslaught of Abstract Expressionism and was marginalized by art world sophisticates as an anti-modern regionalist, a “Realist”. However, the deprecating moniker mattered little to his admirers for whom the contemporaneous canvases of Pollock, Kline, and Hofmann were instantaneously neutralized by a moment in front of a Wyeth masterpiece like Christina’s World (1948) or Young America (1950). Wyeth, nevertheless, was not a Realist in the long American tradition of painters from Thomas Eakins to Edward Hopper. His early imagery aligned more with the enigmatic quality of American Magic Realism, elements of which, decades later, crept back into his compositions. In 1985 his sister Carolyn suggested that “he’s almost digging up old bones”, memorializing those dear to him, departed but forever in his repertoire of memory and painting.
On January 16, 2009, Andrew Wyeth passed away in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, after a brief illness. He was 91 years old. Wyeth is buried in the Olson family plot in Cushing, Maine. He was survived by his son, Jamie Wyeth, who is also an accomplished American Realist painter, and the third generation of the Wyeth artistic legacy.