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
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.
Under 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.
Wyeth 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.
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.
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.
Here'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 is the cover image for the Brandywine River Museum catalog, N.C. Wyeth: Not For Publication.
Wyeth 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
In addition to books, Wyeth was illustrating for magazines, calendars, posters and murals. He even painted maps for the National Geographic Society! Left is a two-page spread from the July 1923 issue of Hearst's International. Right is a dashing scene from a Rafael Sabatini story, The Duel on the Beach in the September 1931 issue of Ladies' Home Journal.
The 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 right) when he died.
Wyeth's career ended abruptly in 1945 when a car he was driving was struck by a train.
Information supplied by: http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/wyeth.htm