June 20, 2013

Enter the realm of Wyeth strange

SHELBURNE — Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Soaring” was acquired by the Shelburne Museum in 1960, the same year its founder, Electra Havemeyer Webb, died.

The painting, tempera on masonite, is the BASE jump for “Wyeth Vertigo,” a new exhibition featuring 36 works by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) and Jamie Wyeth (1946) at the Vermont museum. Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner presents “Through Wyeth Eyes” in the Webb Gallery on Saturday. The exhibition runs through Thursday, Oct. 31.

“This is a very important exhibition for Shelburne Museum and, I think, for Vermont,” said Tom Denenberg, director. “It’s built on our painting ‘Soaring,’ which is arguably one of the most important Andrew Wyeth paintings of the 1940s. 

“This all started with a little aside that Joyce Hill Stoner made a couple of years ago when she came to look at ‘Soaring.’ She is the conservator who has worked with the Wyeth family since the early 1990s. She is a professor at the University of Delaware. She said, ‘Well, you know, all three generations of Wyeths employ that vertiginous perspective. You’re either looking up or you’re looking down; the worm’s eye view, the bird’s eye view.”

In “Soaring,” the viewer’s perspective is above turkey buzzards circling a tiny white farmhouse surrounded by wheat fields. It’s a disorienting position echoed throughout “Wyeth Vertigo.”

“And then she (Stoner) started riffing on this notion,” Denenberg said. “She said, ‘And you know, they all like to be strange. They all like to sort of knock you off your feet socially just as they do in this sort of use of a consistent perspective through all three generations of what is, basically, kind of the first family of American painting. It’s really a dynasty in this country.”

“Wyeth Vertigo” is a complicated loan exhibition, comprised of works that came off the walls of institutions such as the Whitney Museum of American Art, Portland Museum of Art, Farnsworth Art Museum and Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

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