Wyeth Autobiography, Vol. 1
Sycamore Tree and Hunter
Because Andrew Wyeth felt a strong need to establish his own style and approach to art, he did not follow the footsteps of his father N. C. Wyeth and pursue a career in commercial illustration. Nevertheless, some of his works did make the covers of various magazines, and it was the appearance of “Sycamore Tree and Hunter” on the cover of the popular Saturday Evening Post on October 16, 1943, that brought him to the attention of the entire nation.
Often referred to as simply “The Hunter”, the painting’s predominant feature is a striking and finely detailed sycamore tree. It becomes immediately obvious that the perspective is from up high, at the summit of the tree. Looking all the way down the tree’s trunk, through the winding branches to the forest floor below, one finds the small figure of the hunter underneath the tree. It was this exclusive and dramatic bird’s eye-view that so impressed the viewers.
Wyeth’s Exceptional Technique
Wyeth’s brushstrokes were usually applied in such a way as to achieve an incredibly sharp focus, as seen in “Sycamore Tree and Hunter”. He was not fond of traditional oil paints, opting instead for the much more difficult medium of egg tempera, which involves hand mixing pigments with egg yolks. The concoction dries quite hard and in a short time, which means that very small brushstrokes must be used when building a composition in order to render them nearly invisible. The end result is not only a vibrancy of muted hues, but also a spectacle of crisp realism.
Critics vs the People
Like much of Wyeth’s work, “Sycamore Tree and Hunter” captures a simple moment in time, a person passing through the artist’s beloved landscape near his hometown of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. As the contemporary art world was fast-turning its attention towards abstract expressionism, some critics found Wyeth’s compositions hopelessly nostalgic and sentimental. But the public at large fell in love with that specific characteristic, the intimacy of his paintings. Wyeth is considered among the most beloved of 20th century artists - deemed out of step with the art world, but clearly in step with the mood of the American people.
A Bit about the Artist
Wyeth first exhibited his works at the Art Alliance in Philadelphia in 1936, and went on to open his first solo watercolor exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in New York to enthusiastic art lovers who bought every single one of his paintings on the first day of the show. In spite of turning down the lucrative offer to illustrate covers for the Saturday Evening Post, when Wyeth’s Sycamore Tree and Hunter wound up appearing in that coveted spot, it marked a turning point in his successful career, which spanned eight decades until his death at age 91 in 2009.
Andrew Wyeth began his art career with a pretty big chip on his shoulder. After all, his father was N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945), the larger-than-life illustrator who depicted melodramatic scenes with cowboys and pirates in more than 3,000 paintings, as well as illustrations for 112 different books, the masterpiece of which was “Treasure Island”. In contrast, and perhaps by choice, Andrew Wyeth was quiet and reserved. While some may assume that his subtle demeanor was partly due to his frail health during childhood, others may believe that his being rather reclusive was a consequence of having been home-schooled.
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