Andrew Wyeth

American, 1917-2009

Known as the “Painter of the People” and one of the most famous American artists of all time, Andrew Wyeth continues to inspire generations of artists and illustrators with his naturalistic approach and extraordinary attention to detailed realism. In addition to a vast list of official recognitions bestowed upon the artist, two of Wyeth’s most prestigious awards were of national significance. He was the first visual artist to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Kennedy in 1963 and, more recently, he was the first to receive a Congressional Gold Medal in 1990 for his artistic contributions.

Andrew Wyeth was thrust into the national spotlight after his modern-day masterpiece, Christina’s World, 1948 – now owned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York City – achieved critical acclaim for his poignant, yet unsettling, portrayal of a young woman handicapped by polio. Wyeth found that his distinctive symbolism and signature style had mass appeal. His first major traveling retrospective in 1966 and 1967 drew hundreds of thousands of viewers while on exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and later the Baltimore Museum of Art, and continued to break attendance at the Whitney Museum of Art in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Andrew Wyeth drew his inspiration for his earliest work from the Olson family farm in Cushing, Maine. His neighbors in Chadds Ford, Pa., Anna and Karl Kuerner, were also important subjects over the course of more than 30 years. Upon Christina Olson’s death, Wyeth focused his artistic attention on Siri Erickson, which would become a prelude to the Helga series. It was the Helga series that became one of his most evocative and relevant bodies of work in recent times. The series included 247 studies of Wyeth’s neighbor Helga Tester, a Prussian-born immigrant and caregiver to Karl Kuerner. This extensive collection of paintings focused on one subject in different context and emotional states was recognized as unusual in American art. A legend and an icon, the late Andrew Wyeth lives on in American history as a 20th Century artistic genius.