Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October 19, 1945), known as N.
C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator., he was the star pupil of
Howard Pyle and became one of America's greatest illustrators.
Newell Convers Wyeth (October 22, 1882 – October
19, 1945), known as N. C. Wyeth, was an American artist and illustrator., he was
the star pupil of Howard Pyle and became one of America's greatest illustrators.
During his lifetime, Wyeth created over 3,000 paintings and illustrated 112
books,25 of them for Scribner's, the work for which he is best known.
Wyeth was a realist painter just as the camera and photography began to
compete with his craft.Sometimes seen as melodramatic, his illustrations were
designed to be understood quickly.
Wyeth who was both a painter and an illustrator, understood the difference, and
said in 1908, "painting and illustration cannot be mixed–one cannot merge from
one into the other."
Wyeth in his studio, 1903 or 1904
A bucking bronco for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on February 21,
1903 was Wyeth's first commission as an illustrator. That year he described
his work as, "true, solid American subjects–nothing foreign about them."
It was a spectacular accomplishment for the twenty-one-year-old Wyeth, after
just a few months under Pyle’s tutelage. In 1904, the same magazine commissioned
him to illustrate a western story and Pyle urged Wyeth to go West to acquire
direct knowledge, much as Zane Grey had done for his Western novels. In
Colorado, he worked as a cowboy alongside the professional ‘punchers’ moving
cattle and doing ranch chores. He visited the Navajo in Arizona and gained an
understanding of Native American culture. When his money was stolen, he worked
as a mail carrier on horseback to gain back needed funds. He wrote home, "The
life is wonderful, strange—the fascination of it clutches me like some unseen
animal—it seems to whisper, 'Come back, you belong here, this is your real
N. C. Wyeth was born in Needham, Massachusetts. His ancestor Nicholas Wyeth, a
stonemason, came to Massachusetts from England in 1645. Later ancestors were
prominent participants in the French and Indian Wars, the Revolutionary War, the
War of 1812, and the American Civil War, passing down rich oral history and
tradition to N. C. Wyeth and his family, and providing subject matter for his
art, which was deeply felt. His maternal ancestors came from Switzerland, and
his mother as a child was acquainted with literary giants Henry David Thoreau
and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. His literary appreciation and artistic talents
appear to come from her.
He was the oldest of four brothers who spent much time hunting, fishing, and
enjoying other outdoor pursuits, and doing chores on their farm. His varied
youthful activities and his naturally astute sense of observation later aided
the authenticity of his illustrations and obviated the need for models, "When I
paint a figure on horseback, a man plowing or a woman buffeted by the wind, I
have an acute sense of the muscle strain."
His mother encouraged his early inclination toward art. Wyeth was doing
excellent watercolor paintings by twelve years old. He went to Mechanics Arts
School to learn drafting and then the Massachusetts Normal Arts School and the
Eric Pape School of Art to learn illustration, under George L Noyes and Charles
When two of his friends were accepted to Howard Pyle"s School of Art in
Wilmington, Delaware and Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Wyeth was invited to try to
join them in 1902. Howard Pyle was the "father" of American Illustration and
Wyeth immediately meshed with his methods and ideals. Pyle’s approach included
excursions to historical sites and impromptu dramas using props and costumes,
meant to stimulate imagination, emotion, atmosphere, and the observation of
humans in action—all necessities for his style of illustration. Pyle stressed
historical accuracy and tinged it with a romantic aura. But where Pyle painted
in exquisite detail, Wyeth veered toward looser, quicker strokes and relied on
ominous shadows and moody backgrounds. He probably picked up his glazing
technique from Pyle.
Wyeth’s exuberant personality and talent made him a standout student. He was a
robust, powerfully built young man with strangely delicate hands, who ate a lot
less than his size implied. He was admiring of great literature, music, and
drama, and he enjoyed spirited conversation.
On a second trip two years later, he collected information on mining, and
brought home costumes and artifacts including cowboy and Indian clothing. His
early trips to the western United States inspired a period of images of cowboys
and Native Americans that dramatized the Old West. His depictions of Native
Americans tended to be sympathetic, showing them in harmony with their
environment, as demonstrated by In the Crystal Depths (1906).
In returning to Chadds Ford, he painted a series of farm scenes for Scribner's,
finding the landscape less dramatic than the West but nonetheless a rich
environment for his art, “Everything lies in its subtleties, everything is so
gentle and simple, so unaffected.”  His painting Mowing (1907), not done for
illustration, was among the most successful images of rural life, rivalling
Winslow Homer's great scenes of Americana.
He married Carolyn Bockius of Wilmington and settled in Chadds Ford in 1908 to
raise a family on 18 acres near the historic Brandywine battlefield. By now he
had left Pyle and commissions were coming in quickly. His hope had been that he
would make enough money with illustration to be able to afford the luxury of
painting what he wanted. But as his family and income grew, he found it
difficult to break from illustration.
N. C. Wyeth created a stimulating household for his talented children Andrew
Wyeth, Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Carolyn Wyeth, Ann Wyeth McCoy, and Nathaniel C.
Wyeth. Wyeth was very sociable and frequent visitors included F. Scott
Fitzgerald, Joseph Hergesheimer, Hugh Walpole, Lillian Gish, and John Gilbert.
According to Andrew, who spent the most time with his father on account of his
sickly childhood, N.C. was a strict but patient father who did not talk down to
his children.  His hard work as an illustrator gave his family the financial
freedom to follow their own artistic and scientific pursuits. Andrew went on to
become one of the foremost American artists of the second half of the 20th
Century, and Henriette, and Carolyn also became artists; Ann became an artist
and composer. Nathaniel became an engineer for DuPont and worked on the team
that invented the plastic soda bottle. Henriette and Ann married two of N.C.'s
proteges, Peter Hurd and John W. McCoy. N.C. Wyeth is the grandfather of artist
Jamie Wyeth and musician Howard Wyeth.
King Arthur - title page
By 1911, N. C. Wyeth began to move away from Western subjects and on to
illustrating classic literature. He painted a series for an edition of Treasure
Island (1911), by Robert Louis Stevenson thought by many to be his finest group
of illustrations. The proceeds from this great success paid for his house and
studio  He also illustrated editions of Kidnapped (1913), Robin Hood (1917),
The Last of the Mohicans (1919), Robinson Crusoe (1920), Rip Van Winkle (1921),
The White Company (1922), and The Yearling (1939). He did work for prominent
periodicals including Century, Harper's Monthly, Ladies' Home Journal,
McClure's, Outing, The Popular Magazine, and Scribner's. His early works were
sold outright at a handsome price but only much later did he receive royalties.
Wyeth would read a book thoroughly before doing the contracted illustrations and
he specifically created scenes that were thinly described in the book, adding
details and mood of his own, as in Old Pew (1911).
By 1914, Wyeth loathed the commercialism upon which he became dependent and
he battled internally over his capitulation the rest of his life, accusing
himself of having “bitched myself with the accursed success in skin-deep
pictures and illustrations”. He complained of money men "who want to buy me
piecemeal" and that "an illustration must be made practical, not only in its
dramatic statement, but it must be a thing that will adapt itself to the
engravers' and printers' limitation. This fact alone kills that underlying
inspiration to create thought. Instead of expressing that inner feeling you
express the outward thought … or imitation of that feeling".
Wyeth also did posters, calendars, and advertisements for clients such as
Lucky Strike, Cream of Wheat, and Coca-Cola as well as paintings of Beethoven,
Wagner and Liszt for Steinway & Sons. He painted murals of historical and
allegorical subjects for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Westtown
School, the First National Bank of Boston, the Hotel Roosevelt, the Franklin
Savings Bank, the National Geographic Society, and other public and private
buildings. During both World Wars, he contributed patriotic images to government
and private agencies.
His non-illustrative portrait and landscape paintings changed dramatically in
style throughout his life as he experimented first with impressionism in the
1910s (feeling an affinity with the nearby "New Hope Group") then by the 1930s
veering to the realistic American regionalism of Thomas Hart Benton and Grant
Wood, painted with thin oils and occasionally egg tempera. Wyeth worked rapidly
and experimented constantly, often working on a larger scale than necessary,
befitting his energetic and grand vision which often tied back to his ancestral
past. He could conceive, sketch out, and paint a large painting in as little as
By the 1930s, he restored an old captain’s house in Port Clyde, Maine, named
"Eight Bells" after a Winslow Homer painting, and took his family there for
summers, where he painted primarily seascapes. Museums started to purchase his
paintings and by 1941 he was elected to the National Academy and exhibited on a
regular basis.N.C. Wyeth died in an accident at a railway crossing along with
his grandson (Nathaniel C. Wyeth's son) near his Chadds Ford home in 1945.
The Hostage by N. C. Wyeth, 1911, for Treasure
Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
At the time of his death, Wyeth was working on an ambitious series of murals
for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company depicting the Pilgrims at Plymouth,
which was completed by Andrew Wyeth and John McCoy.
In June 1945, he received the honorary degree of master of arts from Bowdoin
College. N. C. Wyeth was a member of the National Academy, the Society of
Illustrators, the Philadelphia Water Color Club, the Fellowship of the
Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the Philadelphia Art Alliance, the
Chester County Art Association, and the Wilmington Society of Fine Arts.
Significant public collections of Wyeth's work are on display at the
Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, and in Maine, the Portland Museum of Art
and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. The Brandywine River Museum offers
tours of his Chadds Ford home and studio, the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio. The
home and studio was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1997.
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