Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) paints Christina Olson & Helga Testorf


Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Christiana's World 1948. Model Christia Olson (1893-1968)

After the death of Christina Olson, whose New England grit overcame her physical disabilities making her Andrew Newell Wyeth’s (1917-2009) favorite early model, the artist began to paint his Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, neighbor Helga Testorf.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Braids 1972 Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

Beginning in 1971 & for the next 15 years, realist Wyeth painted 240 portraits of Helga.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

This exhaustive exploration of one subject, model & muse, is thought to be unprecedented in American art.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

A neighbor of Wyeth’s, who had photographed the entire collection under Wyeth's direction, took the story to Arts & Antiques magazine, supposedly without Wyeth's knowledge.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

After being interviewed about the huge collection of paintings by Art & Antiques, Wyeth reportedly revealed the complete series of Helga paintings to his wife Betsy in 1985; and they arranged the sale of the paintings as a group.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Lovers. 1981. Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

On Monday, August 18, 1986, Time Magazine announced with great fanfare “Andrew Wyeth's Stunning Secret” in an article including interviews with Andy & Betsey Wyeth.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Day Dream 1980. Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

When asked about the secret paintings, Wyeth’s wife said they were about “love.”

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

While moral speculation immediately captured the public's imagination, conspiracy theories also popped up. It has been reported, that several of the Helga paintings had been shown in exhibitions over the years, calling into question the claim of their being a “secret.”

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Black Velvet 1972 Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

The “revelation” that Wyeth had been secretly working with model Helga Testorf for 15 years caused a nationwide print & broadcast media fury throughout the late summer & fall of 1986.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Crown of Flowers 1973 Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

Most of the public hype centered around the artist’s relationship and not about the style of the paintings themselves.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Overflow 1978. Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

The Helga paintings were exhibited in 1987 at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D. C. , which was the gallery’s first exhibition of artwork from a living artist.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

The entire collection was purchased by an American collector in 1986, who within 4 years sold the “national treasure” to Japanese collectors, who used a non-profit to rent some of the paintings as a traveling exhibit to museums across the country & beyond.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) On Her Knees 1977 Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

Copyright for the group of paintings had been purchased by a publisher before the final sale, giving the buyer, not the artist, a cut on every note card, calendar, poster, or other Helga reproduction sold.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

Museum gift shops sold the copyrighted Helga items at an astounding rate.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

The whistle-blowing neighboring photographer from Chadds Ford made money from his images, which were included in the initial catalogue of the exhibit.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Farm Road 1979. Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

As it usually does, the art world was debating what art was in 1986: realism vs. abstraction. Many used Wyeth’s genetic heritage to tag him as a skilled draftsman, an illustrator, but not a fine artist. Others claimed that his paintings would only appeal to the uneducated, middling sort.

Andrew Newell Wyeth (1917-2009) Model Helga Testorf b. 1939

Now, a few generations later, realism has returned to the art world, critically accepted from the hands of newer artists. Wyeth’s paintings remain, as commercially-touted & expertly conceived & executed as they originally appeared.



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