N.C. Wyeth: All American Illustrator

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“Robin Hood” (1917) | “Tarzan” (1913)

Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945) was one of America’s favorite illustrators alongside Rockwell and Leyendecker, concentrating on historical fantasy and classic literature, always adhering to the rules of great composition, color, and drama. Every piece seems to focus on specialized lighting conditions, making each a study and learning experience in environmental effects and dramatic shadow placement.

Wyeth was born in Massachusetts but famously attended Howard Pyle’s School of Art beginning in 1902, which ended up in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. The extent of Wyeth’s fame has made Chadds Ford synonymous with his name, helped immeasurably by the later art career of his son Andrew.

Pyle, an illustrator at the forefront of the new art reproduction technologies of his times, taught his students to include historical sites along with dynamic figural expression and emotional intensity to procure commercial work, to make a living at illustration. Pyle’s style is evident all over Wyeth’s work, and Wyeth is known to have regretted his notoriety as an illustrator instead of as a fine artist.

Regardless, Wyeth’s career is beholden to Pyle. Following in his footsteps, Wyeth produced the first of a set of children’s books in 1911, Treasure Island, which is still considered some of his best. He went on to illustrate Kidnapped, Robin Hood, The Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe, The White Company, and The Yearling. Wyeth also produced work for Ladies’ Home Journal, Harper’s Monthly, and Scribner’s, as well as advertisements for clients such as Lucky Strike, Cream of Wheat, and Coca-Cola.

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Black Spruce Ledge (Lobstering Off Black Spruce Ledge), 1939, tempera on panel, 33½ x 42 in. (85.1 x 106.7 cm.)

Wyeth did paint hundreds of paintings not associated with the fantasy, pulp and “childrens” genres. Eventually Wyeth received an honorary art degree and has had the nonillustrative, American realist work exhibited in various museums across the globe, including the piece above which can be visited at the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine and is quite impressive in person. Like Rockwell, a full gamut of Wyeth’s work has a permanent home in the standalone 3-story Wyeth Center of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. Still, who doesn’t love Robin Hood?

To see more work by N.C. Wyeth, check out our Graphis Master collection.

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