Little Caldwell's Island, 1940 signed 'Andrew Wyeth' (lower right) tempera on panel 32 x 40in
PROVENANCE: The artist Private collection, New Bedford, Massachusetts, 1949 Owen Gallery, Inc., Denver, Colorado, 1968 Auslew Gallery, Norfolk, Virginia, 1972 Kennedy Galleries, Inc., New York, 1980 Private collection, Sag Harbor, New York, 1990 Adelson Galleries, New York, 1992 MBNA, Wilmington, Delaware, 1998 Acquired by the present owner from the above, 2004
EXHIBITED: Wilmington, Delaware, Delaware Art Center, Twenty-Seventh Annual Exhibition of Paintings by Delaware Artists, Pupils of Howard Pyle and Members of the Society, November 11-December 1, 1940. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, One Hundred and Thirty-Sixth Annual Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture, January 26-March 2, 1941. Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art, Twenty-Eighth Annual Exhibition of Selected Paintings by Contemporary American Artists, June 1-August 31, 1941, n.p., illustrated. San Diego, California, San Diego Museum of Art, January 1, 1942. Richmond, Virginia, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Third Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Paintings, March 4-April 14, 1942. New York, Museum of Modern Art, and elsewhere, Americans 1943: American Realists and Magic Realists, February 10-March 21, 1943, n.p. New York, Rockefeller Center, and elsewhere, Second Annual "Portrait of America" Exhibition, January 1, 1946-?, n.p. San Diego, California, Fine Arts Gallery, and elsewhere, 20th Century Realists, February 12-March 20, 1966. New York, Kennedy Galleries, Inc., Selected American Masterworks-John Singleton Copley to Jack Levine, 1770 to 1979, December 4, 1979-January 5, 1980. Bologna, Italy, Gallerie Forni, Andrew Wyeth, March 28-April 28, 1992, n.p., illustrated. Rockland, Maine, Farnsworth Art Museum, A Century of Wyeths, May 29-October 17, 1999, n.p., illustrated. Rockland, Maine, Farnsworth Art Museum, On Island: A Century of Continuity and Change, June 25-October 15, 2000, n.p., illustrated. Atlanta, Georgia, High Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Andrew Wyeth: Memory and Magic, November 12, 2005-February 26, 2006, n.p., illustrated.
LITERATURE: Art & Antiques, May 1990, n.p., illustrated. Contemporary American Masters: Andrew Wyeth, Tokyo, Japan, 1993, n.p., illustrated. Carl Little, Paintings of Maine, Camden, Maine, 2006, n.p., illustrated.
This tempera will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.
Known for embracing realism while New York favored the color-field canvases of the Abstract Impressionists, Andrew Wyeth often criticized himself for having too much concern for his subject matter. He is recalled as saying, "I think the great weakness in most of my work is subject matter. There's too much of it." Likely a symptom of the traditional artistic training Wyeth received at the hands of his father, the great American Illustrator, N.C. Wyeth, his painfully detailed temperas and drybrushes have always been his most highly sought-after works.
Much like his father, Wyeth was a talented draftsman. In preparation for his final works in tempera or drybrush, he executed careful studies of the various elements of the painting. Almost scientific in their rendering, these studies served as guidelines for his finished works. Leading up to 1940, the year Wyeth painted Little Caldwell's Island, the artist executed a number of watercolor studies on the coasts off Port Clyde, Maine. As a result, the finished painting like Wyeth's other temperas is littered with meticulous, layered details. "Tempera is something with which I buildlike building in great layers the way the earth itself was built. Tempera is not the medium for swiftness." (Andrew Wyeth as quoted in, Andrew Wyeth Autobiography, 1995, p. 11)
In the present work, Wyeth depicts a view looking toward Little Caldwell's Island from Caldwell's Island at low tide with kelp and clusters of mussels depicted in the foreground. The island was not far from the home he kept in Maine, which is consistent with Wyeth's oeuvre. Wyeth painted what he knew subjects, both landscape and figural, were chosen based on the closeness that he felt with them. The hills of Chadds Ford, the landscape of Maine, all represent places that he was familiar with and therefore indirectly represented a part of him, or of his unconscious. Wanda M. Corn adeptly surmises this when she states, "N.C. Wyeth firmly believed that great American Art would come only from artists who entrenched themselves against the fashionable styles of the moment and painted instead out of a profound identification with their own land and people." (Wanda M. Corn, The Art of Andrew Wyeth, 1973, p. 127) The present work represents an early example of this connection which he would explore and develop throughout his artistic career.
The young artist, only twenty-three at the time the present work was finished, was newly married to Betsy James, a Maine-native who had introduced him to Christina Olson, arguably his most famous subject. Betsy, like his local subjects and landscape, would provide Wyeth with both inspiration and guidance. According to a letter from the artist to his sister Ann, the year Little Caldwell's Island was painted, "I have thought of you often as I worked on my tempera I am doing of Little Caldwells. I know you love that place as I do. Yesterday I was over there and while I painted Betsy dug for Indian relics." He went on to say, "I have been putting all of my [effort] on this large tempera and I think it is going to be worth it in the end." (a letter from Andrew Wyeth to Ann Wyeth McCoy, Thursday Night, 1940, n.p.)