American Masters Series – Wyeth on PBS

PBS’ American Masters Series has pretty much become a go to series. Go to because it is routinely high quality and filled with educational stuff. And by stuff I mean you get to learn about people or things you didn’t previously while being thoroughly entertained. The series is reason alone to subscribe to the station.

Andrew Wyeth….I will pause to allow that to sink in a little…doesn’t ring any bells? Probably won’t unless you are an art nut. Though in saying that I realize it is a little sad because Wyeth is probably one of the most popular artists of the 20th century hailing from our neighbours to the South. Director Glenn Holsten attempts, with this biography, to shed some light on the man and his art.

Andrew Wyeth grew up in an artistic family. His father, N.C. Wyeth, was a well-known and regarded illustrator. It seemed natural that Andrew also would turn to the art world. He did so and the son surpassed the father. Starting off at the ripe old age of 20 with his first exhibition, it was only up from there. In 1948 his painting “Christina’s World” was purchased by the famous Museum of Modern Art.

Living with his wife and family in Pennsylvania and Maine, Wyeth’s whole life was his art. Even his wife did not take long after their wedding to realize she would always come second. Wyeth used everything around him for inspiration and fodder for his work. Even his neighbour Christina Olsen (yes, it is she in the painting bought by the MOMA) became one of his frequent subjects along with his secret muse, German model, Helga Testorf. A woman he painted in secrecy for roughly 15 years.

As is often the case we like to build our heroes up only to attempt to tear them down again. While there were line ups around the block to see his various exhibitions, art critics took to denouncing him. He was often said to be overrated and then underrated in the next breath. How dare he be a success, I guess.

Using interviews with such people as his sons, Jamie and Nicholas, along with rarely seen articles from the family collection and a ton of his work (including drawings and sketches) the picture gets plenty clearer of the man behind the work.

If you missed it airing on PBS then you can also see it on Digital HD on September 8 and on DVD on September 11 courtesy of PBS Distribution.

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