illustrators

Jim Vadeboncoeur Jr
3809 Laguna Ave
Palo Alto,
CA 94306-2629

Phone:
650-493-1191
bando
Two pages of Wyeth in issues 4 & 8 of
ImageS
N.C. Wyeth Wyeth is in issues
2 & 3 of
B&W ImageS

N.C. Wyeth - self-portraitNewell Convers Wyeth is the head of several generations of important American artists. He was the father of Andrew, Henriette and Carolyn Wyeth, the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth, the father-in-law of Peter Hurd, and the list goes on.

He was born in 1882 - the same year as Bauer, Dulac and Pogany. An inveterate "drawer" as a child, Wyeth began his formal art training very sporadically, jumping from school to school (including a short stay at the Eric Pape School) and instructor to instructor until, at age 20, he was accepted into the Howard Pyle School for the 1902 sessions.

David Michaelis, in his excellent N.C. Wyeth : A Biography, charts Wyeth's life, including his complex relationship with Pyle, through letters, interviews and a bit of speculative history. If you're a Wyeth fan and have resisted reading the book for any reason, I found it most fascinating and learned much about Pyle as well as Wyeth.

N.C. Wyeth - Scribners 1904Under Pyle's tutelage, Wyeth's innate talent blossomed. Within a year he had his first illustration published and it was a cover for a 1903 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Another early market was Success Magazine. Soon he was a regular contributor to Harpers, McClures, Scribners and others, and a steady feature at the Post. The image at right is from the December 1904 issue of Scribners.

N.C. Wyeth - Arizona NightsWyeth was graduated from the Pyle School of Art in 1904 - which simply meant that he no longer had to attend classes. He continued to paint in a studio at the school for several years. He took two trips 'Out West' to soak up the ambiance in 1904 and 1906. By the time the March 1906 issue of McClures (frontispiece at left) appeared, Wyeth was established as a Western Adventure illustrator. He was much more, but a goodly portion of his early commissions were for paintings to accompany classics like Arizona Nights by Stewart Edward White and the original Hopalong Cassidy yarns by Clarence Mulford.

By 1907, just four years after his first work, Outing was touting a Wyeth Portfolio, The Indian in his Solitude. The two outer images below are from this important group of paintings and the center image is concurrent. You can click on each one for a larger version and an observation about an artist whose influence upon the young Wyeth hasn't been that well documented.


If I'm able, I like to add a little insight to the biographical data of the artists I profile. Finding something new to say about Wyeth wasn't easy, but nowhere have I been able to find mention of George De Forest Brush who had a tremendous influence on the Solitude portfolio. If you click on each of the three Wyeth images below, you'll be able to see a Brush painting that could easily have influenced it (as well as a larger version of the Wyeth painting). If there were just one such comparison, I could attribute it to coincidence, but there are many. I don't intend to diminish in any way Wyeth's work or integrity. I simply want to point out an influence that seems to have been missed in the various biographies.

N.C. Wyeth - In the Crystal Depths N.C. Wyeth - Winter N.C. Wyeth - The Hunter

A (very) little more about George De Forest Brush.

With the popularity of his color work came another major market that seemed to be created simply to showcase his art. The classic adventure tales of Robert Louis Stevenson had been in print since they were published. When the publisher Charles Scribner's Sons paired Wyeth with Stevenson and others, they started an industry that continues to this day. Chronologically the Scribner's Classics editions of Wyeth's work consist of::

Treasure Island 1911 Robert Louis Stevenson
Kidnapped 1913 Robert Louis Stevenson
The Black Arrow 1916 Robert Louis Stevenson
The Boy's King Arthur 1917 Sidney Lanier
The Mysterious Island 1918 Jules Verne
The Last of the Mohicans 1919 James Fenimore Cooper
Westward Ho 1920 Charles Kingsley
The Scottish Chiefs 1921 Jane Porter
Poems of American Patriotism 1922 Brander Matthews, ed.
David Balfour 1924 Robert Louis Stevenson
The Deerslayer 1925 James Fenimore Cooper
Michael Strogoff 1927 Jules Verne
Drums 1928 James Boyd
Jinglebob 1930 Philip Ashton Rollins
The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come 1931 John Fox, Jr
The Yearling 1939 Majorie Kinnan Rawlings

Each of these contained from eight to 16 color plates, the quality of which is staggering. Scribners has reissued the series with reproductions taken from restored original paintings and we simply can't recommend these enough. And, if this weren't output enough for one man, Wyeth was wooed by other publishers to illustrate classics for them as well. So, in addition to the Scribner's series, he did the following (as well as many others that don't fall under the 'classics' heading):

Pike County Ballads 1912 John Hay Houghton Mifflin
The Mysterious Stranger 1916 Mark Twain Harpers
Robin Hood 1917 Paul Creswick David McKay
The Courtship of Miles Standish 1920 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Houghton Mifflin
Robinson Crusoe 1920 Daniel Defoe Cosmopolitan
Rip Van Winkle 1921 Washington Irving David McKay
The White Company 1922 Arthur Conan Doyle Cosmopolitan
Legends of Charlemagne 1924 Thomas Bullfinch Cosmopolitan
The Odyssey of Homer 1929 George Herbert Palmer Houghton Mifflin
Men of Concord 1936 Henry David Thoreau Houghton Mifflin

N.C. Wyeth - Robinson CrusoeHere's a sample (at left) of just one illustration from the Scribners reissue of the Cosmopolitan Robinson Crusoe. Don't ask me how that works, but they've included several titles in the series that they didn't publish originally. I chose this image because of the handling of the landscape aspects. Below right is the cover image for the Brandywine River Museum catalog of his personal work, N.C. Wyeth: Not For Publication. Compare the two.

N.C. Wyeth - Mrs. N.C. WyethWyeth also wanted to be a "fine artist"–an easel painter who would command the respect of the artistic community–whatever that means. Whenever he applied himself to this "serious" art, the life seems to go out of the painting. And I don't mean just out of the figures. The grass, the chairs and background of the "fine" art is not nearly as appealing to me as those in the Robinson Crusoe illustration. I know that the former is probably an oil sketch, but the approach leaves me wondering. He could obviously do better, why was he 'dumbing down' his skills for the critics?

It didn't really work since his fame is as an illustrator and the fine art honors are heaped on his progeny. It's interesting to note that his son Andrew's handling of landscape resembles more closely N.C.'s illustrations than his easel work. David Michaelis examines some of the possible roots of this dichotomy in his book

N.C. Wyeth - Hearst's

In addition to books, Wyeth was illustrating for magazines, calendars, posters and murals. He even painted maps for the National Geographic Society! Above is a two-page spread from the July 1923 issue of Hearst's International. Below is a dashing scene from a Rafael Sabatini story, The Duel on the Beach in the September 1931 issue of Ladies' Home Journal.

N.C. Wyeth - Duel on the Beach

N.C. Wyeth - Gems From JudgeThe elusive frontispiece to 1920's Gems From Judge is at left. Wyeth output over the years is immense. Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr., in their N.C. Wyeth - The Collected Paintings, Illustrations, and Murals need over 100 pages to document the wealth of material that he created. I can't recommend this book too highly.

Like many illustrators (Abbey, Brangwyn, Cornwell, etc.) Wyeth chose murals as one path to lasting fame. He painted scenes in the Missouri State Capitol building, images for several banks and hotels and for the National Geographic Society. His most ambitious project was a set of murals for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. He was working on these beautiful images (sample below) when he died.

N.C. Wyeth - Met Life Mural

Wyeth's career ended abruptly in 1945 when a car he was driving was struck by a train.

References

To learn more about N.C. Wyeth, see:

N.C. Wyeth - The Collected Paintings, Illustrations, and Murals Douglas Allen and Douglas Allen, Jr.,1972 Crown
Howard Pyle Henry C. Pitz, 1975 Clarkson N. Potter
200 Years of American Illustration Henry C. Pitz, 1977 Random House
N.C. Wyeth - Not For Publication James H. Duff, 1982 Brandywine River Museum
The Illustrator in America 1880-1980 Walt and Roger Reed, 1984 Madison Square Press
N.C. Wyeth : A Biography David Michaelis, 1998 A.A. Knopf
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 1999
The Vadeboncoeur Collection of ImageS 4, 8 B&W 2, 3 Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. 2002, 2004, 2006 JVJ Publishing

Illustrations are copyright by their respective owners.
This page written, designed & © 2000 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.

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