by Marcia Theel
Within the last twelve months, Wausau's Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum has scored a triumphant coup by acquiring three major paintings by three masters of 20th-century realism: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth and Jamie Wyeth.
The Woodson, which mounts an annual "Birds in Art" exhibition, has a strong connection to avian art. In announcing the Wyeth acquisitions, Woodson director Kathy Kelsey Foley noted that although each of the Wyeths had a prominent place on the museum's collection wish list, "We thought it highly improbable that we would ever have an opportunity to acquire a major artwork featuring birds by any one of them. To realize we have now turned our aspiration into a reality in less than one year is totally astounding. We are most grateful to the Nancy Woodson Spire Foundation for making these acquisitions possible."
N.C.'s "Port Clyde" (1928, oil on canvas), Andrew's "Swifts" (1991, watercolor on paper) and Jamie's "Feeding Gulls" (1999, mixed media on paper) form the core of "The Wyeths: An Artistic Trilogy," on view through November 26, 2006, at the Woodson. Additional works on loan from the Adelson Gallery, New York City, by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth round out the exhibition.
Though N.C. is best known for his illustrations that breathed life into more than one hundred works of fiction beginning with Treasure Island in 1911, his passion was painting the lush landscapes of the Maine coast. After discovering Port Clyde in 1910, Wyeth became totally smitten with the landscape, salty air and sounds of lapping water and singing birds. After moving his family there in 1920, he joyously painted the beauty of his surroundings.
A feeling of solitude and peacefulness permeates the scenic coastal area of Maine depicted in "Port Clyde." Although the water appears calm, one can almost hear the slight sound of waves gently breaking on the rocky shore as gulls approach the foreground. Wyeth's palette of soothing aqua blues, mauve and turquoise intensifies the mood and expresses the artist's rapture.
Andrew Wyeth, son of N.C., is the most celebrated representational painter of the 20th century. His paintings, watercolors and drawings focus on the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania and Delaware, farm interiors and exteriors, stone buildings and the stark landscapes and white clapboard houses typical of Maine. "Swifts," with its distinct rooflines, earth-toned palette, and quick yet decisive brushwork, is quintessential Andrew Wyeth.
A fascination with birds has inspired Jamie Wyeth's artwork since the 1960s. Close to two hundred drawings and paintings feature barnyard chickens and roosters, cawing crows and scavenging gulls, each defined by confident handling and vibrant color. The roiling water and frenzied food fest of "Feeding Gulls" exemplify Jamie's mastery and clearly position him on an equal footing in the Wyeth family triumvirate alongside his father and grandfather.
Looking ahead, the Woodson Art Museum's debut of its Wyeth acquisitions sets the stage for a summer 2007 focus on the entire Wyeth family of artists. From June 16 to Aug. 26, 2007, the Woodson will present "An American Story: The Wyeth Family Tradition," an exhibition organized by the Delaware Art Museum.
For more information about the Wyeth acquisitions or the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, please contact Marcia Theel at 715-845-7010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum, located at 700 N. Twelfth St. in Wausau, Wis., is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. It is closed Mondays and holidays. Admission is free, and the museum's phone number is 715-845-7010.