Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945) Legends of Charlemagne: Cover Illustration 24 x 25 1/2in (Painted in 1923-24.)

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Lot 22
Newell Convers Wyeth
(1882-1945)
Legends of Charlemagne: Cover Illustration 24 x 25 1/2in

Sold for US$ 372,500 inc. premium

American Art

19 Nov 2018, 16:00 EST

New York

Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
Legends of Charlemagne: Cover Illustration
initialed 'W' (lower right)
oil on canvas
24 x 25 1/2in
Painted in 1923-24.

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    The artist.
    James Boyd, acquired from the above.
    Nancy Boyd Sokoloff, daughter of the above, by descent.
    By descent to the present owners.

    Exhibited
    Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Brandywine River Museum, and elsewhere, N.C. Wyeth, May 20-December 31, 1972, n.p., no. 108 (as Cover Painting for Legends of Charlemagne).
    Greenville, South Carolina, Greenville County Museum of Art, N.C. Wyeth: Inaugural Exhibition, March 9-May 26, 1974, p. 10, no. 42 (as Cover Painting for Legends of Charlemagne).

    Literature
    T. Bulfinch, Legends of Charlemagne, New York, 1924, cover illustration.
    D. Allen, D. Allen Jr., N.C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 200.
    C.B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. one, London, 2008, p. 451, no. I-944, illustrated.
    J. Spurlock, G. Hildebrandt, Legendary Illustration Art of N.C. Wyeth, Lebanon, New Jersey, 2014, illustrated on cover.

    Newell Convers Wyeth story book illustrations are among his most revered compositions and the present work, Legends of Charlemagne: Cover Illustration, was prominently placed on the cover of Thomas Bulfinch's historic publication of the same title. Legends of Charlemagne: Cover Illustration memorializes a mythological legend, with heroic imagery assigned to historical and religious icons alike in the battle of good versus evil.

    Wyeth began his formal art training in 1902 as a student of Howard Pyle's, one of the most renowned illustrators of the 19th century. He would soon exceed the abilities of his teacher, quickly finding employment with popular magazines of the period, including Century, Harper's Monthly, and Scribner's. In 1911, he was hired to illustrate Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, his first commission for Scribner's popular series of classical stories, completed by Wyeth as a series of 17 paintings. Following this milestone, in 1919, only a few years before Legends of Charlemagne: Cover Illustration was completed, Wyeth was commissioned to illustrate James Fenimore Cooper's novel, The Last of the Mohicans. It soon became clear his abilities as an illustrator were unmatched and cemented his future as one of the great American genre painters.

    The present work was reproduced as the cover illustration for Thomas Bulfinch's novel, Legends of Charlemagne, published by the Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, New York, in 1924. The book chronicled the tales and folklore that fused with the history of Charlemagne, more widely known as Charles the Great, King of Franks, who ruled Europe during the 8th century. Charles the Great is credited with having united most of western and central Europe during the Middle Ages and has been canonized as a champion of Christianity. The collection of folklore and romantic fables that came to form the Legends of Charlemagne were derived from legend passed down after the French King's rule and have over time encompassed mythical adversaries, imagined by poets in the centuries that followed. Much of the lore that surrounds Charlemagne and the heroic stories that evolved to describe his rule and influence on Europe are documented at length by Thomas Bulfinch in Legends of Charlemagne and were brought to life by Wyeth's masterful, fantastical images that adorned the cover, end sheets, and interior pages of the book. These illustrations feature the stories' protagonists battling human enemies along with mythological creatures like dragons, menacing giants and sea monsters.

    In the present work, the armored figure faces a terrifying dragon, decorated in scales and curling tentacles. In a beehive-shaped pattern, Wyeth constructs the scales of the monster's skin, this motif is further echoed in the chain-link suit of armor worn by our hero. The center of the canvas glows with a white blaze of fire which billows from its mouth, producing sharp, curved fangs and teeth. We can only see the figure's face in profile, which has been spotlighted by the glow of fire. His brow is furrowed in concentration which draws the viewer to his raised arm. With a strong hand he clenches an axe, moments before it crashes down wounding the serpent. Historically, images of the dragon and fire breathing beasts found their way into mythology as a symbol of evil or the devil. With Charlemagne's reputation as a crusader for Christianity, he could be represented here as an archetypal champion, an individual who prevails over creatures of sin, his victory representing good over evil. The dragon-slayer is also a character commonly ascribed to Saint George, starting in the 11th century. Another figure recorded by Bulfinch in Legends of Charlemagne is the soldier Orlando. In rescuing a damsel he is confronted by a dragon on guard at the gates, and with a large branch torn off an elm tree, he beat the dragon with mighty blows to subdue him, proceeding across the threshold to the woman awaiting his rescue.

    Nearly a dozen paintings were executed by Wyeth for this commission, many of which are still in private collections. The initial owner of Legends of Charlemagne: Cover Illustration was the author James Boyd (1888-1944). Boyd established a relationship with Wyeth after the artist was commissioned to illustrate the author's Revolutionary War novel Drums, first published in 1925 and reprinted in 1928 to include Wyeth's illustrations. The artist visited Boyd at his home called Weymouth in Southern Pines, North Carolina in preparation for his commission. There are published letters between the artist and author from this period which were included in the early printings of the 1928 edition of Drums. (G.M. Brillhart, The Boyds of Weymouth, Southern Pines, North Carolina, 2003, p. 29) The present work has descended in James Boyd's family since it was initially acquired from the artist.
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