Watercolor on paper
20¼ x 28 inches
Coe Kerr Gallery, New York
Shaklee Corporation, San Francisco, 1983
Coe Kerr Gallery, New York, 1983
Beth Venn and Adam D. Weinberg, Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth , (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art/Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998), p. 44, no. 29, illus.
From his early childhood in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Andrew Wyeth was encouraged to express his artistic inclination by his father, successful American painter/illustrator Newell Convers (known as N.C.). Andrew spent a great deal of time at home with his parents, who had opted to home school the boy. Of course, he never lacked for intellectual stimulation in the household, as his father was constantly host to the luminaries and dignitaries of his day. When it became apparent to N.C. a few years later that Andrew had the potential to carry on his artistic legacy, he accepted the fifteen-year-old as his student and apprentice. Though two of Andrew’s four siblings also became artists, the many, many hours at home under the tutelage of his father led to Andrew eventually becoming one of the most widely known American painters of the twentieth century.
While unavoidably informed by his father’s illustrative style, Andrew’s is not as easily categorized; his works may exhibit realist or abstract qualities, or both at once. The tempera paintings utilizing his famous “dry-brush” technique are instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with his works, but his watercolors, which outnumber his temperas twenty-fold, display much more variance in style. This variety indicates the freedom Wyeth feels while working in the medium of watercolor. In fact, scholar Beth Venn asserts that it is in this medium which Wyeth “feels free to experiment, to reveal his ‘wild side’.”(1)
To capture his immediate impression of a scene unmediated by time, Wyeth painted his watercolors almost exclusively outdoors, and he did not like to use an easel. Exercising the delicate balance between his much-loved freedom and the restraint necessary to work with watercolor, Wyeth had a well-developed sense of how to imply mood and atmosphere through color and suggestion of form. His mastery of the watercolor medium, developed through a career of practice and experimentation, is evident in the painting Backwater .
Venn further states: “Though it is often thought that his watercolors serve as studies for his temperas, it is not uncommon for a group of watercolors to lead to a final work in the same medium. The 1982 watercolor Backwater is a detailed and finished composition. The studies, Untitled (Backwater Study) and Backwater (Study) show Wyeth building up the detail in progressive stages to the fully realized scene.”(2)
A carefully crafted image, Backwater was the final result of Wyeth’s meticulous development process. The detail, composition and use of watercolor’s inherent properties all contribute to the atmosphere and emotion that is a signature of Wyeth’s best paintings.
1. Beth Venn, “Process of Invention: The Watercolors of Andrew Wyeth”, Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth , (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1998), p. 37.
2. Venn, p. 45.