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N.C. WYETH by David Michaelis


A Biography

by David Michaelis

Pub Date: Oct. 2nd, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-42626-4
Publisher: Knopf

A measured, careful examination of the celebrated illustrator’s life and art, both fused in the crucible of his family. All families have their nuclear myths and secrets, but few have as many as the famous Wyeths. Michaelis (The Best of Friends, 1983) explores the effects of those kept secrets as they traveled down through generations, influencing first parent, then child. Although this volume functions as a biography of the famous man who illustrated Robinson Crusoe and The Last of the Mohicans, it also doubles as a case study of the intimate link between the artist and his mother—a domineering, depressed, emotionally volatile woman. Henriette (Hattie) Wyeth so idealized the past’she refused to leave her childhood home—that she cultivated a perpetual state of emotional loss. As her favorite son, Convers (N.C.) shared her sentiment, her —homesickness.— But in later years, that melancholy sometimes expressed itself as a lingering sense of failure. Yet N.C. was a prodigious illustrator, a recorder of the West at a time when the country hungered for images of vastness and freedom. In his pursuit of powerful imagery, the young artist worked a cattle roundup in eastern Colorado with a group of men known as the Hash Knife outfit and completed a series of paintings that cinched his career as an illustrator. And yet he longed to be thought of as a real artist, to paint —the big picture.— It never came. Michaelis charts his professional rise and personal crises with much detailed attention, but somehow Wyeth never comes to life. Stripped of his myth, the artist becomes a curiously banal figure, a mama’s boy who sacrificed much of his independence for familial approval and financial gain. Michaelis leaves no Wyeth neurosis unexplored, but his deliberate analysis—while infusing the text with a necessary skepticism’strips it of vitality. (32 pages color, 94 b&w illustrations)