January 18, 2015

Wyeth's Women: Betsy, Christina, Siri and Helga

Betsy, "Maga's Daughter," 1966

"On Andrew Wyeth’s 22nd birthday he ventured to Cushing, Maine to meet the artist Merle James but instead met James’ 17-year old daughter Betsy. Instantly smitten, he asked her to show him around town and she was more than happy to oblige. She thought “I’ll show him a real Maine building” and as something of a test took him to the Hathorne Point home of her friends Christina and Alvaro Olson.

Mrs. Andrew Wyeth 'Corner of Woods' 1954

"Throughout his life Andrew had a rather contentious relationship with women; indeed with anyone who didn’t in some way directly support his painting, but on that day in July 1939 he met what would become two of the most important women in his life.

Christina, 1967

"Christina Olson, who had an undiagnosed neuromuscular disease (likely polio) was reduced to crawling and urinating on stacks of discarded newspapers. Andrew however felt that “she was so much bigger than all the little idiosyncrasies.” and found her a symbol of fierce independance - an extraordinary conquest of life. The result of this friendship was Christina’s World, one of the iconic paintings of the 20th century.

Christina's World, 1948

"Christina’s death in January 1968 deeply affected Andrew and marked the end of a seminal two decade long period in his painting.

Siri Erickson

"Faced with a blank canvas – as it were – it was time for a reappraisal of his art. It was then that he met Siri, the daughter of the Cushing farmer George Erickson. Siri was exotic, untouched and had an electrifying effect on his work. “A burst of life,” he later said, “like spring coming through the ground, a rebirth of something fresh out of death.”

Siri, Sauna, 1969

"Wyeth painted Siri for ten years, until Betsy – worried that their relationship had turned sexual – put a stop to it. She told Andrew “If you do this again, don’t tell me.” Her request would have rather far-reaching consequences because Andrew had just met Helga."

Helga, 1972

-- Text from Codex99// Betsy, Christina, Siri and Helga

Marriage, 1993

Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, October, 2008.

The great men [ Thoreau, Goethe, Emerson, Tolstoy] forever radiate a sharp sense of that profound requirement of an artist, to fully understand that consequences of what he creates are unimportant. Let the motive for action be in the action itself and not in the event. I know from my own experience that when I create with any degree of strength and beauty I have no thought of consequences. Anyone who creates for effect—to score a hit—does not know what he is missing! Letterto Andrew fromhis father, the great illustrator N.C. Wyeth


Posted by gerardvanderleun at January 18, 2015 6:15 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Born, apparently, to be a Philistine, I have never understood the great fuss made over Andrew Wyeth - unless it's just more of the eternal self-congratulation of the Eastern Cultural Establishment (or in other words the immortal Us.)

His stuff has always seemed sophomoric and much more depressing than disturbing. But everybody knows I have no taste.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at January 18, 2015 10:42 AM

Andrew Newell Wyeth exalted the commonplace.
My personal favorite:

Posted by: Mizz E at January 18, 2015 12:54 PM

Andrew Wyeth knew completely and wholly what he was about. Not pleasing you, for one thing. There is a presence in his work that is often an unseen presence - a person just around the corner. Also, either a sound or a silence.

His star will rise and many will wonder why they never understood his work when he was still with us. He was as close to a present day Vermeer as any I can think of.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at January 18, 2015 2:16 PM


'S OK. You get to think I'm shallow, I get to not like his stuff.

I have little doubt that I would find much of your taste in music puerile, for whatever that's worth. I've made peace with not finding it necessary to educate.

Posted by: Rob De Witt at January 18, 2015 2:58 PM

I prefer NC Wyeth.

nc wyeth pirate prints

I like a little fun in my fine arts; if I want navel-gazing I can do that quite well at home.

The days when a pope or a duke could commission art and take apart the artist for a failure is not truly appreciated.

"Now Mikey - think; if you do not pull your head out of your rear the Duke will have that done just before removing that head from your neck."


"Virgin Mary made out of dung is just out! Now how about a nice, calm, nondecapitating still life?"

Posted by: mikey at January 18, 2015 4:37 PM

Your eyes are smitten; artists like Andrew Wyeth would balm them except for your conscious ignorance.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at January 18, 2015 5:42 PM

Note to fathers: when Andrew Wyeth asks if your daughter can show him around the place, YOU SAY NO.

Posted by: Shibes Meadow at January 18, 2015 7:54 PM

Are we sure "Christina" is not P.J. O'Rourke in drag?

Posted by: MarkH at January 18, 2015 8:44 PM

Like others here, I was indifferent to Wyeth paintings until in 1977 when I lived in NYC, I was out for a walk and passed the NY Metropolitan Museum of Art where they were exhibiting not his paintings but rather his drawings. I'm no art critic or intellectual. My reaction was visceral. I don't even remember which drawings were exhibited. But the drawings were exquisite and exciting. I left the exhibit appreciating the nuance, the subtlety, and details in his work. Through Andrew Wyeth I discovered his father, NC. Their talents give me chills.

Posted by: Nancy M at January 18, 2015 10:28 PM

Musta' found a good deal on a bulk lot of brown paint.

Posted by: BillH at January 19, 2015 7:30 AM

And MarkH drives towards the goal. He shoots. He scores! Nothing but net!

Posted by: Van der Leun at January 19, 2015 8:31 AM

BillH can now go to his room and think about what he jus said.

Posted by: Van der Leun at January 19, 2015 8:31 AM

You have to admit that Shibes' comment is pretty funny.

Posted by: Casey Klahn at January 19, 2015 11:49 AM

Oh yeah. First class.

Posted by: Van der Leun at January 19, 2015 1:02 PM

"I have little doubt that I would find much of your taste in music puerile"

Feeling a bit testy? :-)

Posted by: pst314 at January 21, 2015 6:59 AM

I find Wyeth's work extremely interesting. Photos and prints do not do his paintings justice, they are very different in person. I don't like all of his work--some of his paintings I actually dislike. But some I love, and what most people don't realize is that his work is really quite varied. It's not all brown! Last year I went to an exhibit of Wyeth watercolors, and they are completely different from the work we are most familiar with. I saw one watercolor that I loved so much that I didn't want to leave it. I just wanted to stand there all day and have the amazing experience the painting created.

The thing about Wyeth that is ultimately so compelling is that he was a true artist. Like Gully Jimson in The Horse's Mouth (a great book that is a fascinating portrait of what it must feel like to be an artist), he was so fully engaged in the creative process that he lived, in a sense, in a different world.

I read this biography of Wyeth last year and really, really enjoyed it: http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Wyeth-Secret-Richard-Meryman/dp/0060929219/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1421853411&sr=8-4&keywords=andrew+wyeth&pebp=1421853502605&peasin=60929219

The author knew Wyeth pretty well and had already written one book about him, as well as many articles. He became the go-to guy for articles about Wyeth because he could get the interview. Eventually Wyeth chose the author as his official biographer--and the process they used was astonishing. Wyeth gave Meryman free rein to write whatever he wanted, with no restrictions, and Wyeth didn't even want to read it. The one condition was that Wyeth wouldn't sit for any new interviews. But Meryman knew enough from all those years, and he interviewed everyone else, including Betsy and Helga. The result is a portrait worthy of the artist, comparable, in a sense, to a Wyeth painting: realistic, unvarnished, honest, and full of so much love for his subject that its essence is made clear.

I have a quote from Wyeth on the image board I keep for inspiration--this was his artistic goal: "Not to exhibit craft, but rather to submerge it; and make it rightfully the hand-maiden of beauty, power, and emotional content."

Posted by: Sarah Rolph at January 21, 2015 7:41 AM