‘Andrew Wyeth’s World War I’

Mar 16, 2019
Courtesy of: The de Lyra family Andrew Wyeth is pictured painting Ralph Cline as “The Patriot” in a circa 1964 photograph take by J. George de Lyra.

Rockland — The downtown Farnsworth Art Museum will open an exhibition of works by Andrew Wyeth Saturday, March 23, in the museum’s Wyeth Study Center Gallery. The show, “Andrew Wyeth’s World War I,’ will be on display through Feb. 9, 2020.

Originally conceived in 2002 by Andrew Wyeth himself, this exhibition affords visitors an opportunity to see how a childhood interest in the World War I grew into a lifelong source of inspiration. Born in 1917, Andrew Wyeth was too young to remember the war firsthand, but it became real to him through his father N.C. Wyeth’s studio where N.C. painted several large-scale canvases of World War I heroics and collected uniforms, weapons and photographs for source material.

King Vidor’s epic 1925 silent film “The Big Parade,” and Christmas gifts of toy soldiers, further fueled young Andrew’s interest. These toy soldiers became real in his imagination, and he completed many childhood drawings in pencil and watercolor of American and German soldiers on WWI battlefields.

As an adult, Wyeth met and befriended soldiers living near his homes in Pennsylvania and Maine. He painted Ralph Cline in the attic of his sawmill in Spruce Head in 1964. In that portrait, “The Patriot,” Cline wears his own World War I uniform in front of a deceptively neutral background. Wyeth explained about the background: “It’s actually a world — it’s the thunder of the Meuse-Argonne — it’s the tobacco he chews, the smell of the wood in his sawmill. I love to dream, to think, about this thing that’s going to be in the background.”

Chadds Ford neighbor Karl Kuerner immigrated to the United States in 1923 and farmed when Wyeth knew him, but it was Kuerner’s German heritage and experience as a machine gunner in the First World War that intrigued the artist. Wyeth depicted the aging yet still rugged soldier in his helmet and uniform in “The German” (1975) and simply his helmet in “Pine Barron,” study (1976).

By bringing his mature work together with childhood drawings and playthings, Wyeth’s exhibition traces the origins of “The Patriot” and “The German” to childhood play. As a boy, Andrew Wyeth built an imaginary world around World War I that was rich with texture, sights, and sound. As an adult, he was able to tap into that world as he developed his portraits of Cline and Kuerner.

The Farnsworth is open to the public Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. through March 31; and will begin spring hours on April 1 — Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit farnsworthmuseum.org.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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