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Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography is not a typical autobiography; rather it is a collection of over one hundred and thirty-eight of Wyeth's paintings. It is, therefore, less his personal comments on these works than the paintings themselves that comprise the story of the shy Wyeth's life. Under the reprints of his paintings, Wyeth provides a note about its subject and the circumstances surrounding his inspiration to paint or draw it. He also includes the emotions and values that he connects to the painting. These notes are usually a page, but some are shorter; nevertheless, they provide the emotions behind the painting and, as such, are enriching to the viewer/reader.
In his introduction Wyeth comments,
"I wanted to get it all down, maybe out of my system. I wanted to be able to say, Everything's possible—if you believe and can get excited."
The son of the famous illustrator Nathaniel Wyeth did not stray far from his home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, except to go to his summer home in Cushing, Maine, for his subjects. Much like his father, the figurative painter Wyeth was a realistic painter. He employed the media of watercolor, dry brush, and egg tempera. While his work is realistic, it is also representational; that is, the objects he paints are clearly identifiable, but his paintings may be predominantly earth colors with patches of brilliant blue.
In the first twenty paintings, there is one from 1954 entitled "Teel's Island." About this painting, Wyeth notes that a certain Henry Teel has a punt which he pulls up on a bank, but he dies soon afterwards. Wyeth explains that this boat is representative of the ephemeral nature of life. Commenting upon another painting, "Edge of the Field" from 1955, Wyeth mentions that an art critic tells his father not to worry about the bleakness of the paintings because the somber quality is a strength in Andrew's paintings.
In addition to this bleakness, there is something nostalgic, and even evocative of static electricity, lending a strange, eerie quality to his representational paintings. About his painting of his models, Christina and Helga, Wyeth writes,
I have to have a personal contact with my models. I don't mean a sexual love, I mean real love. ... I have to become enamored, smitten.
Further in the book, the collection of paintings are representative of this renowned artist and include his famous depiction of "Christina's World," the neighbor in Pennsylvania stricken with a paralysis of her legs who sidles across a field. Of course, there are many other paintings of Christina in this collection.
After Christina's death Wyeth painted a girl named of Siri Erikson; these paintings became a prelude to the famous Helga paintings in 1986. There are 247 studies of this neighbor, a Prussian immigrant named Helga Testorf. About these paintings, Wyeth comments,
"I put a lot of things into my work which are very personal to me. So how can the public feel these things? I think most people get to my work through the back door. They're attracted by the realism and they sense the emotion and the abstraction—and eventually, I hope, they get their own powerful emotion.”
Among other works included in this book are "Trodden Weed" (1951), "Up in the Studio" (1965; featuring his sister Carolyn), "French Twist" (1967), "The Clearing" (1979) and "The Carry" (2003).
Wyeth, Andrew. Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography (Introduction by Thomas Hoving): New York. Bullfinch, 1998.
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