Friday, June 25, 2010

A Little More Wyeth

Many thanks to guest author Charlie Allen for sharing so many inspiring images by NC Wyeth with us this week! As a way of repaying the favour, I thought I'd dig through my collection and see what I could come up with in the way of Wyeth artwork. This first piece, from a 1924 issue of Ladies Home Journal, had been trimmed down by the original owner along both sides to fit into a folder in my morgue. I had to do a little 'reconstructive surgery' in Photoshop. Hopefully its not too obvious.

Next, also from my inherited morgue files, a 1927 cover for Country Gentleman by Wyeth. Earlier this week Charlie told us that "The Boys' King Arthur" was first published in 1908, and that "Treasure Island" was from 1911. So these two pieces provide an interesting example of the artist's development (if any) some ten-plus years later.

Finally, I was surprised to find this series of illustrations in a 1965 edition of Reader's Digest Condensed Books, sandwiched between a thoroughly modern group by Stan Galli and another, equally contemporary series by Arthur Shilstone ( both of which I plan to feature at a later date ).

Charlie explained that NC Wyeth died in 1954, so Reader's Digest was obviously confident that its audience would still have an appreciation for Wyeth's work some ten years after his death ( and several decades after the height of his popularity ).

In fact, the credits indicate that this series was originally presented in 1939.

Once again, they provide an opportunity to consider if Wyeth's work had changed in any way after approximately two decades had passed from the time of "a set of pictures, without doubt far better in quality than anything I ever did...", as Charlie told us the artist said of his "Treasure Island" series.

Unfortunately the reproduction quality on the cheap newsprint paper RDCB used is horrendous.

Even so, Wyeth's skill at devising strong, dramatic compositions can't be obscured by bad printing.

These last two pieces in the series are probably my favourites, as they really remind me very much of the kind of pictures Wyeth was creating in his earlier days. To quote Charlie once more, they are an "amazing group of illustrations... so old... and yet so new to today's viewers and readers! N.C. Wyeth was a true giant in our illustrative history."

And they really are new to me - and thanks to Charlie, I now see the artist in a new light. Wyeth's influence on many of the industry's 'modern masters' - from James Gurney to James Jean - is much more apparent to me now.

We would all do well to look more closely at the likes of NC Wyeth for the purpose of study and inspiration. Again, many thanks, Charlie!

* If you are new to Today's Inspiration and never read Charlie Allen's blog, this is your chance to get to know our guest author better. Drop by there and peruse Charlie's archives for some great stories and some truly amazing artwork!


  1. Charlie Allen3:42 PM

    LEIF.....Cannot thank you enough for displaying NC Wyeth's later examples. And yes, he and his work changed dramatically as the years went by. Draftsmanship a bit unsure at times, not convinced of how much drama a subject needed....a bit of 'fish out of water' feeling with the advancing years. Had totally forgotten that he illustrated 'The Yearling'....a book quite familiar and popular when I was probably a high schooler. Again, you've given substance to a very limited blog of a great artist who deserves the very best we can show.

  2. Charlie, again I agree on all your comments. He seemed to be more daring in his earlier compositions. Also, I like the broad painterly style much better in those early illustrations. In his later work from about 1930 on, he used thinner paint applications.

    I couldn't put my finger on exactly why I can't seem to get excited about the Yearling illustrations, but you nailed it when you mentioned his later work looked "unsure". I think his earlier historical action scenes were some of his best illustrations, and no one used cloud formations more effectively than N.C. Wyeth.

    I have noticed that quite a few illustrator's work shows less quality than when they are at their peak. Perhaps, partially because they are trying to keep up with the changing trends, and lose the strength they had in their earlier work. Or maybe they just tire of using their same approach and style, over and over. Pruett Carter's illustrations are another example of a dramatic change in styles, later in his career.

    Tom Watson

  3. CORRECTION, I meant to say "I have noticed that quite a few illustrator's work shows less quality in their later works, than when they were at their peak".

    Tom Watson

  4. Charlie Allen8:01 PM

    THANKS, TOM...... I think NC Wyeth seemed to have had a longer fantasy period.... as young people do. I recall going through a knights and armor phase, a mummy and catacombs phase (weird!), and others. Wyeth seemed to love the adventurous knights & armor period, the wild and wooly pirates period, etc. When he illustrated in later seems he found it almost too tame, too gentle for his skills. He seemed a bit confused by gentler subjects.

  5. Charlie; If you kept any of your mummy and catacomb drawings I NEED to see them! :^)

  6. WEll, pretty much all hyperbole over NCW is superfluous..suffice to say he created stuff that still packs a punch today. So many other pics to show..The other ones that should be included here are The Giant, the mural he did for , the Pilgrim Murals he did for the Mutual life insurance Company, which are now restored and on display in the lobby of the company's building in Manhattan.
    Some reading about NCW's life will reveal some things, ie: he did the Yearling after Andrew Wyeth had started having success with egg tempera, which is completely different than the impasto techniques of NCW's oil illustrations and when he tried something similar the results were mixed. Also he was having crisis of confidence over his art at that time.
    Required! reading!! by any student of NCW is The Wyeths, the collected letters of NCW from his days as a student of Pyle right up to his death. A lot is revealed about his approach to his art and his life.
    Any one on the east side of the country should RUN not walk to the Brandywine River Museum, where all will be made clear and your art life will changed forever!!

  7. ..oops, that was the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in downtown NYC.

  8. ...and the mural was done for the Westtown School, Pennsylvania. For five hundred dollars!!

  9. NC Wyeth is fantastic!!!!! more more more )))

  10. Thanks to the Scribner's books (and I'm sure a lot of other material that was kept in print), and due to the fact that the illustrations were timeless, Wyeth's work was still appropriate a full twenty years after his death.

  11. Scott; thanks for all the additional info and suggestions for those interested in exploring Wyeth's work further. I should emphasize however that although it would be nice to have included some of the specific pieces you referenced, the intention of this blog and these posts is to give a taste - not present anything close to a thorough overview. I'm grateful to all the enthusiastic, knowledgeable contributors and commentors who help to educate and inspire me and the TI readers - but what we show on Today's Inspiration is always just the tip of the iceberg.

    Michael; Thanks for your comment! But I wonder just how accurate that statement about Wyeth still being popular 20 years after his death actually is. Certainly in retrospect I can see that timeless, enduring quality... but during the '50s and '60s, I'd say Wyeth and his contemporaries were very much sidelined.

    Next week I'll demonstrate what I mean.

  12. Charlie Allen6:46 PM

    Scott, I was aware from something I'd read that NC felt near he end of his life that he was sorry he hadn't spent time on 'fine arts' as did son Andrew. He felt illustration was trivial....not serious art. If so, so wrong!! The powerful, 'out of his imagination' illustrations NC did were more important. They reached a greater audience....and they inspired more youngsters, etc.

  13. The opening 2 page spread for The Yearling looks very much like the painting style I saw in the "Golden Books" that I read as a child.They were mostly rendered in gouache,so Scott's comment about N.C. using his son's egg tempera painting style seems on the money.

  14. Here's my 2 cents regarding reading material...N.C. Wyeth: A Biography by David Michaelis. An excellent read and thoroughly researched.

  15. Charlie Allen4:33 PM

    LEIF....I was very young when I and a friend got enthusiastic on catacombs and mummies. In those old days our encyclopedia served as a source. We read all we could from that....and our 'mummies' were hand carved figures wrapped in strips of old cotton sheets. Sometimes 'burned at the stake'! Then buried in a 'catacomb'. I said weird! No drawings that I recall.