Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Up Close: N.C. Wyeth

This is part of an occasional series dealing with detail images of paintings featuring the brushwork of the artist. Previous posts can be found via the "Up close" topic label link on the sidebar.

The present post deals with N.C. (Newell Convers) Wyeth (1882-1945), a prize student of Howard Pyle. Additional information on Wyeth can be found here and here.

Featured here is "Long Line of Prisoners," an illustration for the 1927 Charles Scribner's Sons edition of "Michael Strogoff, A Courier of the Czar" by Jules Verne.

The source of the detail images is explained below:

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The Kelly Collection has what is probably the outstanding holding of American illustration art by private individuals (not organizations). I was able to view part of it at The Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California towards the end of a January 12 - March 31, 2013 exhibition run. The collection concentrates on illustration art created roughly 1890-1935 and one of its purposes is to further knowledge and appreciation of illustration from that era.

Non-flash photography was allowed, so I took a large number of high-resolution photos of segments of those original works. This was to reference the artists' techniques in a manner not always easy to obtain from printed reproductions. (However, the exhibition catalog does feature a few large-scale detail reproductions.)

I thought that readers of this blog might also be interested in seeing the brushwork of master illustrators up close to increase their understanding of how the artists worked and perhaps to serve as inspiration for their own painting if they too are artists.

Below is an image of the entire illustration coupled with my work. Click on the latter to enlarge.

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Reference photo that I took.

N.C. Wyeth is perhaps the best known illustrator from its Golden Age. His painting style varied over time, subject, and his goal at the time they were made. For example, by the 1930s he was spending considerable effort as a "fine art" painter, feeling that illustration art was inferior. However, when people think of Wyeth's work, they usually associate him with book illustrations he made during the 1910-20 decade. In those paintings he often used an Impressionist-inspired style based on short, distinct brush strokes of varying color over an area, where the top (and dominant) color strokes partly covered strokes of a different, sometimes contrasting color.

The illustration featured above was done later, and the Impressionist style is essentially gone. In its place is a flatter style. Wyeth still overlaid colors, but contrasts are less obvious and the short brush strokes are missing. Some outlining was present in his classic book illustration style, and that is continued here. Furthermore, this illustration is comparatively thinly painted; at the same time, illustrators such as Dean Cornwell and Mead Schaeffer were applying oil paint generously indeed.

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