The Wyeths

Here are some paintings by a family of artists who lived and worked in my mother’s childhood neighborhood, Chadds Ford, PA, along the Brandywine River.

The grandfather, N. C. Wyeth was probably the first painter I knew by name. He illustrated a few of the stories that my dad read to my sister and me. From Treasure Island I remember one painting in particular. The frame is filled with a blind pirate tapping his cane and reaching his claw toward me. The whole painting is dark except for an oily lamp behind him. And by the lamp you can see there is a terrible wind whipping at the edges of his coat. I think it is even painted at a tilt, which made me feel like I was running from him and looking back over my shoulder. (I looked it up after I wrote that. It turns out it’s quite different in my memory than in real life.)

N. C. Wyeth, Old Pew

I also remember one of the illustrations in the Adventures of Robin Hood. It was a scene from Robin Hood’s death bed. Light is streaming in through a window and falling on his face. A handful of his companions are there with their heads down. They’re dressed in forest green, but Robin Hood is wearing white. One of his down-facing companions is lifting him to a sitting position so he can pull back an arrow on his bow.

N. C. Wyeth, The Passing of Robin Hood

His paintings then and now make me drop into the story and imagine the scenes in detail.

Later in life, again through my parents, I discovered Andrew Wyeth, N. C.’s son. He painted with the same detailed realism as his father. But I like Andrew’s paintings best. They seem more dramatic to me because the story behind them isn’t told so explicitly.

There’s a rough painting of a wolf prowling around some structure, a fence or the door to a shed. It looks like he was painted with a few strokes of the brush. His fur is made rough and mangy just by the lifting of the brush from the canvas.

Andrew Wyeth, Study of Wild Dog

I think Andrew likes to paint dogs. There’s another one with a perfectly motionless labrador peering across a creek. He’s on a rock above a little fall of water, and I can just imagine his movements to get up there. It looks like dusk is falling. Actually, dusk is falling in a lot of Andrew’s paintings.

Andrew Wyeth, The Intruder

There’s another one with a stack of creepy jack-o-lanterns. The sky is smudged over with sickly clouds, and some weird light is cast from the moon and from the candles flickering inside the pumpkins.

Andrew Wyeth, Jack Be Nimble

One of my favorites shows a youngish man in an old work coat, hood up, standing still with his eyes closed. Snow is falling on his face, and he has the most perplexing expression. I’ve looked at his face for a long time before. Sometimes he looks content. Sometimes he looks weighed down.

Andrew Wyeth, Man in a Hood

N. C. and Andrew are both dead. But Andrew had a son, Jamie, who is also a painter in the same realist tradition. Go look him up.

Note: I’ve collected most of these over the last few years, so I don’t know how to reference them other than, thanks, Internet!

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About mbdeaton

I study neutrino oscillations in neutron star mergers as a postdoc at North Carolina State University. Previously I was a graduate student at Washington State University, using the Spectral Einstein Code (SpEC) to simulate hydrodynamics in strong gravity. I like the following questions: What happens when black holes and neutron stars collide? What is the role of radiation (neutrinos!) in an event like that? What makes Fred and Doerte such fine teachers? What's physics for? What good can a scientist offer his local community, as a scientist?

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