Andrew Wyeth, April Wind
Published May 2020
In this current environment, taking a walk has become a novelty, a pastime discovered anew in order to recharge and regroup. The American artist Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) knew of the restorative potential of getting outside. As part of his daily routine, he would walk alone for miles through the woods and the countryside. On these outings, the people and places he encountered became inspiration for his work. One such example is April Wind, 1952, which melds aspects of portraiture, landscape, and still life painting into one contemplative composition.
As a portrait, Wyeth’s approach eschews convention. The sitter is viewed from behind, his face is obscured, legs truncated; only his billowing coat feels animated. The massive sycamore trunk and branches below command our attention. The limb resemble debris floating in water and appear almost lifelike–or, perhaps, skeletal–depending on your mood. Typical of Wyeth’s work, the title is emblematic and offers more questions than answers. We begin to wonder, who is this man? Is he friend? A stranger?
The artist uses an unusual perspective for the surrounding landscape, adding to the painting’s mystique. The light, wispy clouds and sky neatly meet the terra firma below. The horizon line is impossibly precise, as if to suggest an infinite view or another world just over the hilltop. Also typical of Wyeth’s settings, this landscape appears to hover between two worlds: the tangible and the intangible.
Wyeth painted using the medium of egg tempera, a centuries-old technique which was popular with American artists in the 1930s-50s. Along with a range of other painters such as Paul Cadmus, Reginald Marsh, and George Tooker, Wyeth preferred the quick-drying, matte finish over the gloss of oil paint. Exceptional textural details define his work such as the fraying hem of a tattered coat, the shine of a silver ring, and decaying bark. Wyeth harkened back to his experiences painting still lifes in the studio with his father–and teacher–the artist and illustrator N. C. Wyeth. Andrew Wyeth later recalled his father’s advice: “When you’re doing form and shadow, remember it’s not just a shadow. It is something that will never happen again just like that. Try to get that quality, that fleeting character of the thing.”
After this painting was acquired, Wyeth shared the origins ofApril Windin a four-page letter to Wadsworth director Charles Cunningham. Wyeth recalled how “he happened upon” his friend James Loper sitting on a log while out for a walk not far from Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where Wyeth lived. This letter, along with other documents and correspondence dating to the museum’s founding, are housed in the museum archives. Many offer personal insights regarding particular artworks and enrich our understanding of their creation and significance.
Wyeth’s ability to find creative potential in his friends and familiar places was one of the strengths of his art and artistry. Now that many of us have added leisurely walks and more time outside to our schedules, our own companions and surroundings may reveal themselves to us anew, perhaps providing a fresh perspective or some creative inspiration we hadn’t noticed before.