Andrew Wyeth was a 20th century American painter who was born in 1917 and lived to the age of 91. Known for his realistic artwork, he focused on landscapes and portraits inspired by neighbors he met on properties in Pennsylvania and Maine. He ran against the trend of abstract painting and was accused of being nothing more than an illustrator, but his fans loved his work.
Some of his more striking works deal with the tension between domestic or pastoral scenes and what is unknown by the viewer about the actors in those scenes. In “America’s Sweethearts,” he painted his neighbor, a former German soldier, pointing a gun at his wife in the comfort of his home. The situation that led to this tableau was less sinister than the painting suggests. His neighbor’s wife had simply entered the room to call her husband to dinner.
Wyeth’s most famous painting, “Christina’s World,” also plays with that tension. Painted in 1948, it shows a woman in a pale pink dress sprawled out in a vast field with her back to the viewer. She appears to be reaching for home, a decaying farmhouse on the distant horizon. In reality, Christina was Andrew Wyeth’s neighbor in Maine and was unable to walk as a result of an unknown illness. The painting can be seen in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Andrew Wyeth also created a stunning series of paintings and drawings using his neighbor, Helga Testorf, as his model. In these paintings, Andrew Wyeth carefully depicts how light shapes a woman’s body. Over a period of fourteen years, he created a collection of over 240 works featuring her, her hair, or a simple curve in her body. Similar to other paintings of his old muse Christina, Andrew Wyeth seemed to turn the features of Helga’s body into a landscape. This collection was shown in its entirety in the late 1980s but has since been divided. Pieces from the series can be viewed in a number of different galleries and museums.
Many of his critics claim that Andrew Wyeth was simply a populist, able to connect only to uneducated working classes who appreciated his ability to portray a blade of grass more than any meaning that might be found in the image. This was, of course, in complete contrast to his contemporaries, but Wyeth continued to paint his largely depopulated, somewhat bleak scenes up until the end of his life.