"Corner of the Woods" shows Betsy James Wyeth, the artist's wife, seated at the foot of an enormous American beech tree in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where Wyeth was born and lived his entire life except for the summers he spent in Maine. The huge tree trunk fills over half the painting, while...
"Corner of the Woods" shows Betsy James Wyeth, the artist's wife, seated at the foot of an enormous American beech tree in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where Wyeth was born and lived his entire life except for the summers he spent in Maine. The huge tree trunk fills over half the painting, while Betsy occupies much of the lower left half of the picture, with the tree dominating the space above her head. She seems lost in thought as she gazes blankly down toward the ground. Wyeth rendered the extremely fine details of Betsy's hair, the fibers of her coat, minute fissures in the bark, and veins in scattered leaves with great precision. He used the same care to render the scumbling of the coat, the texture of the tree, and the character-revealing wrinkles around Betsy's eyes, thus allowing figure and ground nearly to blend into one another. Wyeth limited his palette to a narrow range of earth colors, from the dark browns of his sitter's coat and hair to the tans, ochers, and grays in the tree trunk and the muted reds of her woolen gloves. Wyeth traced his artistic roots to three main sources: the drawings and watercolors of the German Renaissance painter Albrecht Dürer, such nineteenth-century American painters as Fitz Hugh Lane and Winslow Homer, and turn-of-the-century illustrators, including N. C. Wyeth (his father), Howard Pyle, and others. Wyeth rejected Cubism, Fauvism, Dada, and more recent movements in art, yet his work nonetheless bears an unmistakable stamp of the twentieth century in its overall flatness, limited palette, and the abstracted handling of textured areas. As with all of his major works in tempera, Wyeth prepared this composition by making a large number of studies in both pencil and watercolor. He began in late October, 1953, making numerous plein-air sketches. "Corner of the Woods" is unusual in that the artist then continued the process out-of-doors, bringing the large panel, his tempera paints, and other materials into the woods for repeated sittings through the winter and spring. Betsy Wyeth recalls that there were no studio sittings at all, and that the painting was completed outdoors in May of 1954, by which time she was uncomfortably warm in her winter coat. (Conversation, Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. with Betsy Wyeth, February 28, 1995). Andrew Wyeth was a portraitist of places and people, and among the highlights of his oeuvre are those works devoted to women in their homes or in familiar landscape settings. Wyeth clearly identified women with nature, with natural beauty and the seasons, the rhythms of life and death. Wyeth's favorite female models included Christina Olson, whom he painted for over twenty years in Maine, Anna Kuerner, a longtime Pennsylvania sitter, and Helga Testorf, a Chadds Ford neighbor whom he painted, both clothed and nude, in hundreds of works. Similarly, Betsy Wyeth was the subject of many works by her husband, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s. Besides "Corner of the Woods," she is depicted in such other well-known works as "Distant Thunder" (1961, private collection), where she lies asleep in a field; "Maga's Daughter" (1966, collection of Betsy Wyeth), a bust-length portrait in which she averts her gaze; and "Outpost" (1968, Brandywine River Museum), which shows her standing outdoors in the snow. In all these works, including "Corner of the Woods," there is a sense of mystery and loneliness about Betsy; the painter appears to suggest that it is difficult to know her truly. Though she sits in the very foreground of "Corner of the Woods" and is studied with great care, her form seems subsumed into the giant tree and the bleak wintery atmosphere. In the end, the picture suggests a mood of introspection and distance. The text was adapted by Janet Comey from an entry by Theodore E. Stebbins, Jr. in Peter C. Sutton, "The William Appleton Coolidge Collection," Boston: MFA, 1995.
Lower left: Andrew Wyeth; Reverse: TITLE/CORNER OF THE WOODS
The artist; with M. Knoedler & Co., New York; to William A. Coolidge, 1954; to MFA, 1993, bequest of William A. Coolidge.
Bequest of William A. Coolidge
© Andrew Wyeth