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  • Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors Opens October 5, 2004

    Andrew Wyeth. Beckie King Study, 1946. watercolor, private collection © Andrew Wyeth
    On October 8, 2004, the Currier opens Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors comprised of 52 watercolors and 2 temperas. Today Wyeth is best known for his masterworks in tempera, such as Christina’s World or Wind from the Sea. But it was through his watercolors that young Wyeth first came to national prominence more than 65 years ago. In October 1937, his debut exhibition of 23 watercolors at the prestigious Macbeth Gallery in New York City sold out in two days. Wyeth, then an unknown 20-year old artist, was suddenly hailed by critics as the successor to Winslow Homer, arguably this country’s greatest watercolorist. Ironically, today’s public has not experienced in depth or in quantity the watercolors Wyeth produced in the 1930s and 1940s.

    Andrew Wyeth was born the youngest of five children of the beloved illustrator Newell Convers (N.C.) Wyeth and his wife, Carolyn, on July 12, 1917, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Though N.C. taught all of his artistic children, Andrew, frail in health and demonstrating the most promise of all, was carefully nurtured by his father in the studio. Oil was the preferred medium of N.C., but Andrew did not like its “greasy” feel. Instead he turned to watercolor and then to tempera, which his brother-in-law the artist Peter Hurd introduced to him in the late 1930s.

    Young Wyeth was praised for his mastery of the watercolor technique, his bold colors, and a genuine feeling for his subjects. From the outset he painted the people and places he knew best in his native Chadds Ford and near the fishing village of Port Clyde, Maine, where he had summered since boyhood. In these early watercolors is the intense focus on everyday people and objects that we associate with the more mature Wyeth.

    In April 1939, Maud Briggs Knowlton, first director of the Currier Museum of Art and an accomplished watercolorist, mounted young Wyeth’s first museum exhibition. Her successor, Gordon Smith, organized with his colleague James Brown, Director of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, the first major retrospective of then 34-year-old Wyeth’s work. The works in Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors date from the years between these two historic exhibitions.

    Though the public today may measure his career by his temperas, Wyeth has worked consistently in watercolor throughout his life. In some cases, watercolors serve as studies for his temperas, but often they are finished works that stand on their own. Within this group of works there is a vibrancy and a confidence that belie the artist’s youthfulness. In these early years emerged a distinctive vision -- an unexpected point of view of the commonplace through which a composition transcends realism into the evocative. This is a body of work which demands to be seen so that we may more fully understand the artist we know today.