Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945), known as N.C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator who became one of America’s greatest exponents of that particular skill. During his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books. The first of these, Treasure Island, was his masterpiece and the proceeds paid for his studio.
N.C. Wyeth was born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882. His ancestor, Nicholas Wyeth, a stonemason, came to Massachusetts from England in 1645. Later ancestors were prominent participants in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War, passing down rich oral histories and tradition to N.C. Wyeth and his family and providing subject matter for his art, which was deeply felt.
Paul Revere’s Ride from the Revolutionary War
He spent much time hunting, fishing, in outdoor pursuits, and doing chores on the farm. His astute sense of observation later aided the authenticity of his illustrations and the need for models: “When I paint a figure on horseback, a man plowing, or a woman buffeted by the wind, I have an acute sense of the muscle strain.”
Art Training in Accuracy and Verismo Methods
In 1902 he went to Howard Pyle’s School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Pyle was the “father” of American illustration, and Wyeth immediately meshed with his methods and ideals, which included excursions to historical sites and impromptu dramas using props and costumes, meant to stimulate imagination, emotion, atmosphere, and the observation of humans in action—all necessities for his style of illustration.
Pyle stressed historical accuracy and tinged it with a romantic aura. But where Pyle painted in exquisite detail, Wyeth veered toward looser, quicker strokes and relied on ominous shadows and moody backgrounds. He probably picked up his glazing technique from Pyle.
Wyeth’s first commission as an illustrator was a bucking bronco for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post in 1903. That year he described his work as “true, solid American subjects–nothing foreign about them.” It was a spectacular accomplishment for the 21-year-old Wyeth, after just a few months under Pyle’s tutelage.
In 1904, the same magazine commissioned him to illustrate a Western story, and Pyle urged Wyeth to go West to acquire direct knowledge, much as Zane Grey had done for his Western novels.
Out West with the Cowboys
In Colorado, he worked as a cowboy alongside the professional “punchers”, moving cattle and doing ranch chores. He visited the Navajo in Arizona and gained an understanding of Native American culture. When his money was stolen, he worked as a mail carrier, riding between the Two Grey Hills trading post and Fort Defiance, to earn enough to get back home. He wrote home, “The life is wonderful, strange — the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal — it seems to whisper, ‘Come back, you belong here, this is your real home.’ “
On a second trip he collected costumes and artifacts, including cowboy and Indian clothing. This inspired a period of images of cowboys and Native Americans. His depictions of American Indians tended to be sympathetic, showing them in harmony with their environment.
Out West With a Wagon Train of Settlers
Farms in New England
Upon returning to Chadds Ford, he painted a series of farm scenes finding the landscape less dramatic than that of the West but nonetheless a rich environment for his art: “Everything lies in its subtleties, everything is so gentle and simple, so unaffected.” His painting Mowing (1907), not done for illustration, was among the most successful images of rural life.
The Potato Harvest in Maine
Marriage and Family Life
He married Carolyn Bockius of Wilmington and settled in Chadds Ford in 1908 to raise a family on 18 acres near the historic Brandywine battlefield. Commissions were coming in quickly, and his hope had been that he would make enough money with his illustrations to be able to afford the luxury of painting what he wanted; but as his family and income grew, he found it difficult to break from illustration. His hard work as an illustrator gave his family the financial freedom to follow their own artistic and scientific pursuits.
Illustrating Classical Themes
By 1911, N.C. Wyeth began to move away from Western subjects and on to illustrating classic literature. He painted a series for an edition of Treasure Island (1911), by Robert Louis Stevenson, thought by many to be his finest group of illustrations. The proceeds from this great success paid for his house and studio.
- Title page, The Boy’s King Arthur, (1922), by Sidney Lanier.
- One More Step, Mr. Hands by N.C. Wyeth, 1911
for Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.He also illustrated editions of Kidnapped, (1913), Robin Hood, (1917), The Last of the Mohicans, (1919), Robinson Crusoe, (1920), Rip Van Winkle, (1921), The White Company, (1922), and The Yearling (1939). His early works were sold outright at a handsome price, but only much later did he receive royalties.
Sir Lancelot du Lac
The Last of the Mohicans
Wyeth’s Disenchantment with Commercial Art
By 1914, Wyeth loathed the commercialism upon which he became dependent, and for the rest of his life, he battled internally over his capitulation, accusing himself of having “bitched myself with the accursed success in skin-deep pictures and illustrations.”
He complained of money men “who want to buy me piecemeal” and that “an illustration must be made practical, not only in its dramatic statement, but it must be a thing that will adapt itself to the engravers’ and printers’ limitations. This fact alone kills that underlying inspiration to create thought. Instead of expressing that inner feeling, you express the outward thought… or imitation of that feeling.”
Wyeth also did posters, calendars, and advertisements for clients such as Lucky Strike, and Coca-Cola, as well as paintings of Beethoven, Wagner, and Liszt for Steinway, the piano merchants. During both World Wars, he contributed patriotic images to government and private agencies.
Experiments with Impressionism, Regionalism and Seascapes
His non-illustrative portrait and landscape paintings changed dramatically in style throughout his life, as he experimented first with impressionism in the 1910s, then by the 1930s veering to realistic American regionalism, painting with thin oils and occasionally, egg tempera.
“Early Snow” – in the Impressionist style
During the 1930s, in Port Clyde, Maine, he restored an old captain’s house, “Eight Bells” and took his family there for summers, where he painted primarily seascapes. Museums started to purchase his paintings, and by 1941, he was elected to the National Academy and exhibited on a regular basis.
In 1945, N.C. Wyeth and his grandson (Nathaniel C. Wyeth’s son) died in an accident at a railway crossing near his Chadds Ford home. At the time of his death, at the age of 63, Wyeth was working on an ambitious series of murals depicting the Pilgrims at Plymouth, a series completed by Andrew Wyeth and John McCoy.
Significant public collections of Wyeth’s work are on display at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, and in Maine, at the Portland Museum of Art and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. The Brandywine River Museum offers tours of the N.C. Wyeth House and Studio in Chadds Ford.
- Mowing (1907), ,Long John Silver and Hawkins (1911),The Great Train Robbery (1912), The Fence Builders (1915), The Scottish Chiefs (1921), The Giant (1923), Apotheosis of the Family (1932): a 60-foot-by-19-foot mural of the Wyeth family,
Dying Winter (1934), The Alchemist (1938), Deep Cover Lobsterman (1939), The War Letter (1944), Nightfall (1945, Stand and Deliver
Via a much-shortenened version of the biography from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, to which the reader should go to obtain more detailed information