The Helga Pictures
"The Helga Pictures" are a fantastic compilation of tempera and dry brush paintings, watercolours and pencil studies secretly created within a span of over fifteen years. Andrew Wyeth created over two hundred and forty individual works of neighbour Helga Testorf from 1971 to 1985 without telling a single person, including his wife. He stated that he would not have been able to have finished the project with everyone looking at it.
Prussian-born Helga Testorf was thirty-two when she met Andrew Wyeth. They met while she was helping to look after a friend of Wyeth's who had also been a subject for some of his works. Helga had never modeled before but agreed to become his subject. What started out as an acquaintance evolved into a long-time friendship. She enjoyed the long, pensive hours she spent modelling for the artist. She became so comfortable with the artist that often she would lie sleeping while he painted her.
The Helga Pictures depicts a persistence of vision and technique from a perspective that is both objective and personal. They were not meant to be a psychological portrait of a person rather the study of the effects of light on a woman's body.
He often focused on a particular element or motif such as her radiant reddish-blonde hair or the light describing a curve of her body leaving the rest of the image less finished. He painted her in the studio, outside in the shadows and sunlight, during every season and time of day. He painted her clothed and nude, awake and asleep.
In 1986, Leonard E. B. Andrews purchased the entire series so that people everywhere could experience seeing the collection in its entirety. He agreed to a coast-to-coast tour organized by the National Gallery of Art from 1987-89. The Helga pictures have since come into the ownership of a private Japanese interest, which continues to allow access to the works through select public exhibitions.
Although the collection was brought to a close in 1985 Andrew Wyeth added one last picture to the massive collection in March 2002 entitled "Gone." To this day Helga continues to be connected to the Wyeth family acting as a caregiver to the aging artist.