Monday, June 21, 2010

N.C. Wyeth: "... amazing talents"

By guest author, Charlie Allen

Leif has been kind enough to ask that I contribute a blog or two on artists that I've liked in the past. This comes along later than planned... due to a rather difficult 2010 so far. Won't get into that, but we'll try this out, and hopefully viewers will see something of the past century illustration that is interesting, inspiring and entertaining.

The subject is N.C. Wyeth, one of, if not the very best of the early century illustrators. He hardly needs introduction to most. I grew up admiring and wondering at many of the illustrators in my youth... and definitely wanted to do that... sometime, 'when I grew up'. Luckily I did get in on the last thirty or so years of print media illustration, before TV and computers took over the world.

First, just a brief word about Newell Convers Wyeth, born in Needham, Massachusetts, in 1882.

He began illustrating at 21 and continued until his death in 1954. These illustrations are fine, dramatic works... years before artists used photo reference and 'short cuts'. I'm sure he used reference, but they were composed and painted in oils from his amazing talents, vivid imagination and love of subject.

The scans on this blog are from an old book titled, "The Boys King Arthur" (Charles Scribner and Sons, New York). Opening credits state 'edited for boys by Sidney Lainer'. The above sub-title is 'Sir Thomas Mallory's History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Roundtable'. The writing is antiquated and very British... purposely, no doubt to give the character of early days.

The first scans, hopefully can be merged together by Leif... maybe not important. The inside cover and facing page, in sepia, an entourage of knights, ladies (Guinevere?), proud horses, swans, et al.

The opening color scan is the title page designed and painted by Wyeth. Who but Wyeth would conceive of a more formidable character than this? Plus design the distinctive title page as well?

This book was recently lent by a friend and former political cartoonist for the S.F. Examiner, and an excellent artist. He grew up with it, and this copy is marked, well loved and worn. I think this illustrated edition came along early in the centrury, the earliest published date being 1908. There were several editions later on. Wyeth completed the illustrations for Robert Lewis Stevenson's 'Treasure Island' in 1911. In his own words, 'I've turned out a set of pictures, without without doubt far better in quality than anything I ever did...'. They are truly a marvel to behold.

Maybe on a later blog!

* Continued tomorrow.

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


  1. Thanks Charlie - NC Wyeth is a big favourite. This is going to be a great week !

  2. Nice to see N.C. Wyeth here. I love the mid-century illustrators, but it's nice to tip the hat to the older generation once in awhile. I believe that Wyeth and his grandson died in the railway crossing incident in 1945. The local art museum here in Fort Wayne had an exhibit of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth's work here a few months ago, on loan from the Farnsworth Museum. Wonderful stuff. N.C. worked very large, in luscious, impressionistic strokes of color. Thanks so much, Charlie