Illustrator N.C. Wyeth, Who Inspired Creators of 'Star Wars' and 'Game of Thrones', Gets Retrospective Exhibition at Taft Museum of Art

"New Perspectives" marks the first exhibition in nearly 50 years to delve deep into the oft-overlooked artist's body of work

click to enlarge N. C. Wyeth's  "Treasure Island" - BRANDYWINE RIVER MUSEUM OF ART, PURCHASED IN MEMORY OF HOPE MONTGOMERY SCOTT, 1997
Brandywine River Museum of Art, purchased in memory of Hope Montgomery Scott, 1997
N. C. Wyeth's "Treasure Island"

Come February, you can unearth the work of a 20th-century artist that inspired the likes of Star Wars and Game of Thrones. Large-scale, vivid and fantastical, the illustrations of Newell Convers Wyeth — known as N.C. Wyeth — will be on display at the Taft Museum of Art via a retrospective exhibition titled N.C. Wyeth: New Perspectives.

It marks the first exhibition in nearly 50 years to delve deep into the oft-overlooked artist's body of work, bringing approximately 50 of Wyeth's pieces to the Taft, the final and only Midwest venue to house the traveling show. Co-organized by Pennsylvania's Brandywine River Museum of Art and Maine's Portland Museum of Art (PMA), New Perspectives was first exhibited at Brandywine from June 22 to Sept. 15, 2019 followed by a recently-wrapped display at PMA, where it showed from Oct. 4 to Jan.12.

Born in 1882, Wyeth was influenced by artists like Winslow Homer and Howard Pyle, the latter of whom was his mentor. Known for his literature-based illustrations, Wyeth lent his work to 112 books and created over 3,000 paintings. Of those, 25 were published as part of Charles Scribner's Sons Illustrated Classic series, where he brought his vision to stories such as Treasure Island, The Last of the Mohicans, The Boy's King Arthur and more. 

Wyeth spent much of his life in Maine, where he painted scenes of the people and places that make up the state. In a review of the exhibition, Forbes' Everett Potter writes that Wyeth was famed for the "intense colors in his work," which were often used in his illustrations. Potter also noted that the show's stint in Portland was so popular that the museum opened its doors seven days a week to accommodate the crowds. 

"But it’s his paintings of the Maine coast and the people of Maine that rose far above any illustration to become 20th-century masterworks," Potter writes. "Anyone who knows the state of Maine, with all of its beauty and fierce independence and its quirks, will recognize something in these paintings."

According to a release, Wyeth's fine-art paintings demonstrate his "artistic evolution from the American impressionist style of the 1910s to the regionalist realism of the 1930s and '40s." And it seems that his talents carried on through his family's line; both well-known painters, he's the father of Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of Jamie Wyeth. 

"Wyeth’s remarkable imagination not only allowed him to give deeply compelling visual form to well-chosen episodes from novels,” says Ann Glasscock, Taft Museum of Art’s Assistant Curator, in a release,“but it simultaneously inspired his unpaid work as he explored the world and events around him in exquisitely composed and brilliantly colored paintings.”

That eye for dramatic coloring and storytelling has influence today. Several of Wyeth's works are on permanent display at the currently-under-construction Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, which was founded by none other than Star Wars creator George Lucas. The director, alongside George R. R. Martin (Game of Thrones) have credited Wyeth as having influenced their own understandings of what an adventure story could look like. 

New Perspectives comes to the Taft Museum of Art (316 Pike St., Downtown) Feb. 8 through May 3. The museum will host several events in conjunction with the show. More info: taftmuseum.org.  

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