Friday, January 16, 2009

The "Painter of the People" Left Us

I feel a need to interrupt the Disney/Grimm essay sequence to honor the memory of a decisive figure and painter par excellence in modern art. Andrew Wyeth, son of N.C. Wyeth and not any less legendary than his father, passed away last night in his sleep. The news shocked the art world: there have been many difficult goodbyes in the recent past.

A realist painter who elevated even the mundane beauty of his hometown to the heights of timeless and transcendental art, he was one of the most popular artists of the century. And indeed, he has lived through it: he fell asleep for eternity at the age of 91, after a rich and accomplished life. However, recognition not only came from the general public but also in the form of official awards. In 2007 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts, while two decades earlier he obtained the highest honor of the Congressional Gold Medal. He was also the first painter to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from none other than President Kennedy.

He received his primary artistic instruction from his father, a great educator and iconic illustrator himself. N.C. Wyeth was one of the artists active in the Golden Age of American Illustration, a period that has shaped visual culture and artistic trends ever since. He was educated directly by Howard Pyle, the "Father of American Illustration" and founder of the Brandywine School. Generations of artists replaced each other in this institution of broad academic freedom that established a new tradition. N.C. Wyeth passed on this formative knowledge to his son, who did not fail at implementing and broadening it.

He couldn't have wished for a richer life or a more peaceful passing, but it still feels like with his death a great instance of American illustration, one that started with Howard Pyle, is gone forever.

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