Organizations* : AFA, SI
It is generally agreed that N.C. Wyeth is one of the finest illustrators in American art history, a fact that has proved to be both a blessing and a curse, since many people fail to realize what an accomplished “pure” artist he was. Wyeth dedicated his career to depicting American subjects in a fresh, energetic manner, “true, solid American subjects - nothing foreign about them.” Tom Brokaw said that he “was a man of the first half of the century, roughly from Theodore Roosevelt to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when Americans seemed to be framed in red, white and blue bunting and the background music was Yankee Doodle Dandy or Kate Smith singing God Bless America.”
Born in Needham, Massachusetts, the patriarch of the Wyeth clan became one of the foremost book illustrators and mural painters in America in the early part of the 20th century. Wyeth’s career was launched at the age of twenty when he was accepted as one of the select few to study with the reigning master of illustration, Howard Pyle. Almost immediately Wyeth’s talent became apparent, and Pyle engineered a trip to the Southwest for his young protégé in order to gather material for future work in western subjects. “I feel this experience had much to do with how he ever afterward saw nature,” the writer Paul Horgan recalled. “He saw it there, under the sun which so vastly plays light upon mountains, and plains, and continents of clouds, in a grand abstraction. That light and that landscape became his symbols for fabled places when later he needed to represent them.”
There seems little doubt that N.C. Wyeth’s paintings of western themes reflect the influence of Frederic Remington, whose work he admired, although Wyeth’s abilities were far too great for him to be labeled a mere imitator. Instead, Wyeth seems to have used Remington as a departure point for a more elaborated, dramatic style. The strength of Wyeth’s art, as in this work, lies in his ability to let the work stand solely on its own merits. Its subject recalls the words of Charles M. Russell, who was sympathetic to such men. “He ain’t long forgettin’ civilization,” Russell wrote. “Living with nature ‘n’ her people this way, he goes backward till he’s a raw man, without any flavorin’.”
In the 1920’s, Wyeth became increasingly committed to easel painting, and he tried very hard to stay away from too many outside commitments so he was free to paint at his property in Chadd’s Ford, Delaware, or the Maine seacoast where he and his family vacationed. Later Wyeth told students that to be a good illustrator, one had to become an artist first.
In 1941, he was elected to the National Academy of Design in New York and was also a member of the Salmagundi Club, the Society of Illustrators, and the American Federation of the Arts. At the peak of a brilliant career, he was killed with a grandson in a train/car accident near Chadd’s Ford in 1945.
Reference: The American West: Legendary Artists of the Frontier, edited by Dr. Rick Stewart, AskArt.com