Artist Andrew Wyeth and His Legacy in the Brandywine Valley

Andrew Wyeth was one of the premier artists of the 20th century, well known for his realist painting style of land and people around him in the Brandywine Valley area of Pennsylvania, such as in the painting “Seed Corn,” portrayed above.

Wyeth was born in Chadds Ford, PA, and drew inspiration for his works from the Brandywine Valley area, along with his summer home in Maine. He is the most prominent member of the Wyeth family of artists, including his father N.C. Wyeth and his son Jamie Wyeth.

>> Read “10 Things to See in West Chester’s Brandywine Valley

Find out more about Andrew Wyeth’s paintings and his deep connection to the Brandywine Valley.

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Andrew Wyeth’s Career in Art

Wyeth’s father, N.C. Wyeth, was considered one of the country’s foremost illustrators in the early 20th century, renowned for images of cowboys, knights and pirates. His children Henriette and Carolyn followed their father into art upon being trained by him.

Andrew was his youngest child of five. He also was trained by his father beginning at age 15. He was encouraged to try illustration and painting. His career in watercolors began in 1937 with an acclaimed one-man show in New York.

Wyeth also painted in egg tempera, a technique that blends dry pigments, egg yolk and distilled water. Unlike translucent watercolors that are applied easily, temperas involve a time-consuming process of mixing paints and applying opaque layers.

‘Christina’s World’

Wyeth’s most famous painting is probably “Christina’s World,” which was completed in 1948. It portrays a young woman from behind, wearing a pink dress and lying in a grass field with a farmhouse off in the distance.

According to Mental Floss, there was an actual Christina, who served as the model for the famous painting. Anna Christina Olson was a neighbor at his summer home in Maine. She suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder that rendered her incapable of walking. Instead of using a wheelchair, Olson crawled everywhere she went, from her home to the surrounding countryside.

Wyeth was introduced to Olson by his soon-to-be-wife Betsy. The sight of Olson crawling through fields picking blueberries inspired him to paint her.

“The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless,” Wyeth once said, according to New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, where the painting resides. Olson was a recurring model for several other Wyeth paintings. 

The Olson House depicted in the iconic painting was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011.

After Wyeth’s death in 2009, the Museum of Modern Art allowed “Christina’s World” to visit the Brandywine River Museum, which exhibited the painting for two days in memorial before returning it to New York. 

The Helga Pictures

Wyeth is also famous for more than 200 drawings and paintings of a German model, Helga Testorf. She was a neighbor of Wyeth’s in Chadds Ford. He painted her indoors and outside, clothed and nude, in such works as “Braids.” The paintings, executed over the course of 15 years, from 1971 to 1985, were apparently a secret to both Wyeth’s wife and the married Testorf’s husband.

In 1986, Leonard E.B. Andrews, Philadelphia publisher and millionaire, purchased and preserved almost the entire collection. The paintings and drawings then were exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in 1987 and subsequently in a nationwide tour. Controversy ensued over the extensive collection of nudes. 

After the controversy, Andrews sold the entire collection to a Japanese company, which drew more criticism. 

Andrew Wyeth’s Legacy in the Brandywine Valley

Wyeth brought notice to his birthplace, the Brandywine Valley, by painting many of his subjects there. Museums and studios are among the sites a Wyeth fan can visit in the area.

Brandywine Museum of Art

Many Wyeth family artworks are exhibited in the Brandywine Museum of Art in Chadds Ford. With works from Andrew, N.C., and Jamie Wyeth, it’s sometimes called the Wyeth Museum. It is a project of the Brandywine Conservancy, which endeavors to preserve the character of the area.

The museum, overlooking the Brandywine River, also features illustrations, landscapes and still lifes from such artists as Harvey Dunn, Maxfield Parrish, William Trost Richards and Jesse Willcox Smith.

Kuerner Farm

This 19th-century farmhouse was an inspiration to Andrew Wyeth. He made hundreds of drawings, tempera paintings and watercolors of the farmhouse and red barn, along with the people, on the property.

The Kuerner Farm, a National Historic Landmark, is also being overseen by the Brandywine Conservancy. Educational tours give the curious a look at the area that inspired Wyeth and an explanation of his creative process.

The Andrew Wyeth Studio

Another Chadds Ford landmark, the Andrew Wyeth Studio is a repurposed schoolhouse that became a working space for the artist. Guided tours offer a look at all aspects of Wyeth’s career. 

The studio is a National Historic Landmark and a member site of the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The N.C. Wyeth House and Studio

N.C. Wyeth’s house and studio are also available for tour. Andrew Wyeth’s father built the two on a hill overlooking the Brandywine Valley, which inspired his family of artists and illustrators for more than a century.

The N.C. Wyeth House and Studio is also listed as a National Historic Landmark and is also a member of the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

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