Andrew Wyeth at the National Gallery of Art
Nothing says “American painter” like stark portrayals of rural settings. Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In is filled with these. Seeing Wyeth’s paintings, I almost want to overwinter in Maine armed with nothing but a ream of white paper and a Royal typewriter with a broken M.
Several dozen of Wyeth’s 300 window images serve as the organizing principle for Looking Out, Looking In. Often, the paintings show an interior with just a glimpse out. But sometimes, Wyeth perfectly captures what it means to be on the outside looking in, as on a gray-dark night when light fills only one window (Evening at Kuerners, 1970).
Wind From the Sea (1947) is the exhibit’s big attraction. My favorite iteration of that work is a pencil study Wyeth created a moment after he opened an upper floor window in the Olson house. The sight of a stale curtain suddenly blowing in the breeze so moved Wyeth that he grabbed the first sheet of paper he found and began to draw. Earlier, he’d sketched Christina Olson on that piece of paper. As a result, the first study for Wind From the Sea shows a woman’s head emerging from the top of the window frame.
British at Brandywine (1962) is the exhibit’s best painting for capturing the American experience. Wyeth lived near Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania, where in 1777 the British defeated the Continental Army, led by George Washington. The Continental Army wasn’t demoralized though. They thought their loss was due to unfamiliarity with the landscape and poor reconnaissance not to any personal deficiency. This view suggests a certain jaunty confidence those living in the 4 million miles near 39.82 degrees north and 98.57 degrees west are known for. Wyeth’s British at Brandywine (1962) shows toy soldiers left on an afternoon windowsill. The land that wanted to be free is one where any seven-year-old can reshape the order of battle and remain safe in the knowledge that it will all work out in the end.
Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In is at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. through November 30, 2014.