N. C. Wyeth
N. C. Wyeth, c. 1920
Newell Convers Wyeth

(1882-10-22)October 22, 1882
Needham, Massachusetts, United States
DiedOctober 19, 1945(1945-10-19) (aged 62)
Known forIllustration, painting
Notable workTreasure Island
Robinson Crusoe
StyleBrandywine School
MovementRealism, Romanticism
Carolyn Brenneman Bockius of Wilmington
(m. 1906)

Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945), known as N. C. Wyeth, was an American painter and illustrator. He was the pupil of Howard Pyle and became one of America's most well-known illustrators.[1] Wyeth created more than 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112 books[2] — 25 of them for Scribner's, the Scribner Classics, which is the body of work for which he is best known.[1] The first of these, Treasure Island, was one of his masterpieces and the proceeds paid for his studio. Wyeth was a realist painter at a time when the camera and photography began to compete with his craft.[3] Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were designed to be understood quickly.[4] Wyeth, who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and said in 1908, "Painting and illustration cannot be mixed—one cannot merge from one into the other."[3]

He is the father of Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, both also well-known American painters.

Early life

Wyeth in his studio, c. 1903

Wyeth was born in 1882, in Massachusetts to parents Andrew Newell Wyeth II and Henriette Zirngiebel Wyeth.[5] An ancestor, Nicholas Wyeth, a stonemason, came to Massachusetts from England in 1645. Later ancestors were prominent participants in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the American Civil War, passing down rich oral histories and tradition to Wyeth and his family and providing subject matter for his art, which was deeply felt. His maternal ancestors came from Switzerland, and during her childhood, his mother was acquainted with literary giants Henry David Thoreau and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His literary appreciation and artistic talents appear to have come from her.[6]

He was the oldest of four brothers who spent much time hunting, fishing, and enjoying other outdoor pursuits, and doing chores on their farm. His varied youthful activities and his naturally astute sense of observation later aided the authenticity of his illustrations and obviated the need for models: "When I paint a figure on horseback, a man plowing, or a woman buffeted by the wind, I have an acute sense of the muscle strain."[7]

His mother encouraged his early inclination toward art. Wyeth was doing excellent watercolor paintings by the age of twelve.[8] He went to Mechanics Arts School to learn drafting, and then Massachusetts Normal Art School, now Massachusetts College of Art and Design, where painting instructor Richard Andrew advised him to become an illustrator, and then the Eric Pape School of Art to learn illustration, under George Loftus Noyes and Charles W. Reed.[9]


One More Step, Mr. Hands, Treasure Island (1911) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Title page, The Boy's King Arthur (1922), by Sidney Lanier

Wyeth traveled to the Brandywine Valley to study with Howard Pyle, eventually settling in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. A bucking bronco for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on February 21, 1903, was Wyeth's first commission as an illustrator.[10] That year he described his work as "true, solid American subjects—nothing foreign about them".[11]

It was a spectacular accomplishment for the twenty-year-old Wyeth, after just a few months under Pyle's tutelage. In 1904, the same magazine commissioned him to illustrate a Western story, and Pyle urged Wyeth to go West to acquire direct knowledge, much as Zane Grey had done for his Western novels. In Colorado, he worked as a cowboy alongside the professional "punchers", moving cattle and doing ranch chores. He visited the Navajo in Arizona and New Mexico and gained an understanding of aboriginal American culture. When his money was stolen, he worked as a mail carrier, riding between the Two Grey Hills, New Mexico trading post and Fort Defiance, Arizona, to earn enough to get back home. He wrote home, "The life is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen animal—it seems to whisper, 'Come back, you belong here, this is your real home.'"[12]

On a second trip two years later, he collected information on mining and brought home costumes and artifacts, including cowboy and aboriginal American clothing. His early trips to the western United States inspired a period of images of cowboys and aboriginal Americans that dramatized the Old West.[4]

Upon returning to Chadds Ford, he painted a series of farm scenes for Scribner's, finding the landscape less dramatic than that of the West but nonetheless a rich environment for his art: "Everything lies in its subtleties, everything is so gentle and simple, so unaffected."[13] His painting Mowing (1907), not done for illustration, was among his most successful images of rural life.[citation needed]

In 1906, Wyeth had married Carolyn Brenneman Bockius of Wilmington. In 1908 they moved to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, along the Brandywine Creek.[14] The Wyeths created a stimulating household for their talented children Andrew Wyeth, Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Carolyn Wyeth, Ann Wyeth McCoy, and Nathaniel C. Wyeth. In 1937, Nathaniel would marry Howard Pyle's niece.[15] Wyeth was very sociable, and frequent visitors included F. Scott Fitzgerald, Joseph Hergesheimer, Hugh Walpole, Lillian Gish, and John Gilbert.

According to Andrew, who spent the most time with his father due to his sickly childhood, Wyeth was a strict but patient father who did not talk down to his children.[16] His hard work as an illustrator gave his family the financial freedom to follow their own artistic and scientific pursuits.

Andrew went on to become one of the foremost American painters of the second half of the 20th century, and both Henriette and Carolyn became painters also; Ann became a painter and composer. Nathaniel became an engineer for DuPont and worked on the team that invented the plastic soda bottle. Henriette and Ann married two of Wyeth's protégés, Peter Hurd and John W. McCoy. Wyeth is the grandfather of painters Jamie Wyeth and Michael Hurd, and the musician Howard Wyeth.[17]

By 1911, Wyeth began to move away from Western subjects and on to illustrating classic literature. He painted a series for an edition of Treasure Island (1911), by Robert Louis Stevenson, thought by many to be his finest group of illustrations. The set made him famous, and the proceeds from this great success paid for his house and studio.[18] He also illustrated editions of Kidnapped (1913), Robin Hood (1917), The Last of the Mohicans (1919), Robinson Crusoe (1920), Rip Van Winkle (1921), The White Company (1922), and The Yearling (1939). He did work for prominent periodicals, including Century, Harper's Monthly, Ladies' Home Journal, McClure's, Outing, The Popular Magazine, and Scribner's.[citation needed]

By 1914, Wyeth loathed the commercialism upon which he became dependent, and for the rest of his life he battled internally over his capitulation, accusing himself of having "bitched myself with the accursed success in skin-deep pictures and illustrations". He complained of money men "who want to buy me piecemeal" and that "an illustration must be made practical, not only in its dramatic statement, but it must be a thing that will adapt itself to the engravers' and printers' limitations. This fact alone kills that underlying inspiration to create thought. Instead of expressing that inner feeling, you express the outward thought… or imitation of that feeling."[19]

Wyeth also did posters, calendars, and advertisements for clients such as Lucky Strike, Cream of Wheat, and Coca-Cola, as well as paintings of Beethoven, Wagner, and Liszt for Steinway & Sons. He painted murals of historical and allegorical subjects for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Westtown School, the First National Bank of Boston, the Hotel Roosevelt, the Franklin Savings Bank, the National Geographic Society, the Wilmington Savings Fund Society, and other public and private buildings. During both World Wars, he contributed patriotic images to government and private agencies.[20] Wyeth was a member of The Franklin Inn Club in Philadelphia.[citation needed]

Self-portrait by N. C. Wyeth, 1940

His nonillustrative portrait and landscape paintings changed dramatically in style throughout his life as he experimented first with impressionism in the 1910s (feeling an affinity with the nearby "New Hope Group"), the principles of the divisionist painter Giovanni Segantini, then by the 1930s veering to the realistic American regionalism of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood, painting with thin oils and, occasionally, egg tempera. That was the medium favored by his son Andrew, and introduced to both of them by his son-in-law Peter Hurd. Wyeth worked rapidly and experimented constantly, often working on a larger scale than necessary, befitting his energetic and grand vision which often harked back to his ancestral past. He could conceive, sketch and paint a large painting in as little as three hours.[21]

Death and legacy

In June 1945, he had received the honorary degree of Master of Arts from Bowdoin College. Wyeth was a member of the National Academy, the Society of Illustrators, the Philadelphia Water Color Club, the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the Chester County Art Association, and the Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts. [22]

In October 1945, Wyeth and his grandson (Nathaniel C. Wyeth's son) were killed when the automobile they were riding in was struck by a freight train at a railway crossing (39.870747°, −75.576979°) near his Chadds Ford home.[23] At the time, Wyeth had been working on an ambitious series of murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company depicting the Pilgrims at Plymouth, a series completed by Andrew Wyeth and John McCoy.

Significant public collections of Wyeth's work are on display at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, in Maine at the Portland Museum of Art, and at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. The Brandywine River Museum offers tours of the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio in Chadds Ford. His home and studio were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1997, and are open to the public.[24] His studio is set up just as he left it — the palette he used on the day of his death sits by his last canvas.[25]


Other works

The Alchemist N. C. Wyeth 1937


See also


  1. ^ a b Artsedge, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. "N. C. Wyeth: A Short Biography" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on February 10, 2007. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
  2. ^ Adams, Henry (June 2006). "Wyeth's World". Smithsonian. Retrieved February 21, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Gopnik, Adam (November 15, 1998). ""Pictures Great," His Publisher Told Him, review of N. C. Wyeth by David Michaelis". New York Times. Retrieved February 18, 2007.
  4. ^ a b barewalls.com (1996–2005). "Newell Convers Wyeth". Retrieved February 21, 2007.
  5. ^ "Portrait of Henriette Zirngiebel Wyeth". collections.brandywine.org. Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  6. ^ Kohler, Sue A.; Carson, Jeffrey R. (1988). Sixteenth Street Architecture. Volume 2. Washington, D. C.: U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. p. 204.
  7. ^ An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, Little Brown and Company, Boston, 1987, ISBN 0-8212-1652-X, p. 4
  8. ^ An American Vision, p. 78
  9. ^ Kohler & Carson 1988, p. 204
  10. ^ Gerson, Donna, Michelle Frisque, Beth Kean, and Elizabeth T. Mahoney. "Elizabeth Nesbitt Room Illustrators Project: Newell Convers Wyeth (1882–1945)". University of Pittsburgh. Archived from the original on May 28, 2002. Retrieved August 28, 2013.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. ^ American Art Archives (n.d.). "N C Wyeth / Newell Convers Wyeth". Retrieved February 21, 2007.
  12. ^ An American Vision, p. 12
  13. ^ An American Vision, p. 16
  14. ^ "N.C. Wyeth Biography | Brandywine Conservancy and Museum of Art". www.brandywine.org. Retrieved January 30, 2022.
  15. ^ "Milestones, Jan. 25, 1937". Time. January 25, 1937. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved February 16, 2023.
  16. ^ An American Vision, p. 78
  17. ^ Fisk, Dean (August 5, 1998). "FISKE-L: Re-Nicholas Wyeth / John Fiske & Sara Wyeth". Archived from the original on January 4, 2013. Retrieved February 19, 2007.
  18. ^ An American Vision, p. 29
  19. ^ An American Vision, p. 18
  20. ^ Chenoweth, H. Avery. Art of War: Eyewitness U.S. Combat Art from the Revolution Through the 20th Century. New York: Barnes & Noble Pub, 2003, pages 75, 106-108, and 360, ISBN 0760748284
  21. ^ An American Vision, p. 80
  22. ^ "Special Collections & Archives: Bowdoin Honorary Degree Recipients". library.bowdoin.edu. Retrieved August 30, 2022.
  23. ^ Kohler & Carson 1988, p. 205
  24. ^ "The N.C. Wyeth House & Studio". Brandywine River Museum of Art. Retrieved August 25, 2016.
  25. ^ Lesser, Natasha (October 14, 2004). "Great Landscapes at Brandywine". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved December 20, 2017.
  26. ^ a b Milford, Maureen (January 25, 2007). "Wanted: New home for Wyeth painting". Delaware News-Journal. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved January 26, 2007.
  27. ^ The Deerslayer: or, The first war-path, OCLC WorldCat
  28. ^ Wyeth, N. C. "Reception to Washington on April 21, 1789, at Trenton on his way to New York to Assume the Duties of the Presidency of the United States". Brandywine River Museum.
  29. ^ Milford, Maureen (January 7, 2007). "WSFS building fills void in city's center". Delaware News-Journal. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved January 7, 2007.
  30. ^ "They Took Their Wives with Them on their Cruises". Peabody Essex Museum.

Further reading

External video
video icon Presentation by David Michaelis on N.C. Wyeth: A Biography at the Delaware Art Museum, December 16, 1998, C-SPAN
video icon Presentation by David Michaelis on N.C. Wyeth: A Biography at the Woman's National Democratic Club, June 1, 1999, C-SPAN
  1. ^ ""The King's Henchman"". Brandywine River Museum of Art. Retrieved July 6, 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)