‘Wishbone’ by Andrew Wyeth

A wishbone is a lucky charm, and lucky we are that Andrew Wyeth came across a tree branch resembling one, and decided to share his vision in a painting entitled ‘Wishbone’. The scene’s focus is placed on a lonely forked branch that rises like an arm struggling to stay afloat while being pulled by the river’s current. It aptly resonates Andrew Wyeth’s words, “Nature is not lyrical and nice; behind the peace is violence”.

‘Wishbone’ is a beautiful composition that discloses a powerful contrast between a narrow, restful river bank in the background and a wide ribbon of rushing water in the foreground. Although the river appears fast-moving, Andrew Wyeth introduced some calm by adding patches of dainty pastel flowers. The painting displays the vivid and lush greens that are associated with summers in Cushing, Maine, where he spent much time applying his skill to canvas.

Andrew Wyeth, also known as ‘the painter of the people’, was an American artist who enjoyed the use of watercolour, especially the dry brush method, and the aged technique of tempera. Born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania in 1917, Andrew was the youngest of three children. At an early age he became ill and had to be schooled at home. He spent many hours watching his father, N. C Wyeth, a prominent illustrator, at work in his studio, and under his guidance, the young boy learnt how to draw.

Personal Tragedies

Due in great part to his home confinement and his observant nature, Andrew Wyeth developed a unique understanding of the people in his life. When his father died in a tragic railroad crossing accident, his world changed drastically, and his work became darker and more serious. He once stated, “When he [father] died...I was really on the spot and had this terrible urge to prove that what he had started in me was not in vain”. Wyeth’s work definitely took on his father’s quality. He admitted to having an unusual emotional attachment to the landscape; a statement well proven in ‘Wishbone’ which holds not only a sense of timelessness, but also a certain level of his father’s hopefulness and optimism.


Andrew Wyeth had a natural curiosity for what moved around him, be it people, wind or water, like the river’s current in ‘Wishbone’. He observed and understood from a distance, as was the case when he skilfully captured on canvas his neighbour’s character Christina Olson; he titled the famous painting ‘Christina’s World’. His lengthy walks during his illness gave him the opportunity to become one with nature, an emotion we often feel when viewing his landscapes.

Andrew Wyeth never strayed far beyond his own ‘world’ – that of Chadds Ford and Cushing, Maine, where he enjoyed winters and summers painting. Despite the artist’s self-admitted inner struggles, which become apparent in the various emotions found in ‘Wishbone, serenity is nevertheless the overall atmosphere of the painting. Wyeth was able to establish balance in his life, much like the floating, struggling forked branch in ‘Wishbone’.

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