Van Gogh •
Newell Convers Wyeth
Newell Convers Wyeth
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N. C. Wyeth, the founder of an American art dynasty including his son Andrew, and grandson Jamie, was an artist whose Western works were only a part of his enormous output of illustrations.
Yet, perhaps no other illustrator has painted the West with such a theatrical art, and no previous artist illustrated so well the myths that produced our notions of the drama of cowboys, Indians, and holdup men. Wyeth was Boston bred and trained, attending Mechanics Art High School, the Massachusetts Normal Art School, and Eric Pape's Art School. After studying with C. W. Reed in Boston, he joined the "Pyle School" of illustration at Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Wyeth venerated Pyle and emulated his approach to art as closely as he was able, painting much the same kind of subject matter. In his immensely long career, Wyeth completed a staggering 3,000-plus works, including over 25 books for Scribner's Juvenile Classics, many of which are still in print. In addition to his illustrations, Wyeth did both still lifes and tempera landscapes. In his youth, Wyeth traveled extensively in the Southwest. He later returned to the East with a great many sketches which were to form the basis for his almost endless illustrations of life in that region. His first published illustration, Bucking Bronco, was for the Saturday Evening Post in 1903. Later in his career, he made two more trips to the West, in 1904 for Scribner's and in 1906 for Outing.
After these trips, he never returned to the West again. Wyeth's pictures decorate the most incredible variety of places: hotels, banks, insurance companies, schools, and churches. He was a man of broad education and was particularly fond of historical subjects. His work was aimed at making a fast and lasting impression on the viewer, who was likely to turn the page as fast as he could in order to follow the story being illustrated. For that reason, when considered as art, Wyeth's illustrations have a very melodramatic quality. Nevertheless, he was an excellent draftsman and had a keen feeling for color and composition. His paintings transferred the complex mythologies of Farny and Johnson into easily recognizable symbols that have become part of the vocabulary of art that we now identify as "The Wild West." It is a world far removed from the realities once so painstakingly summarized, chronicled, and recorded by such pioneers as Catlin, such visionaries as Bierstadt, and such luminaries as Remington and Charles M. Russell. He represents, in some respects, the end of a great era in American art.