“It’s the first time that ‘Soaring’ has been reunited with its studies. The studies and drawings are owned by the MFA in Boston since the 1940s. I don’t think there’s ever been as rich an assembly of Andrew Wyeth paintings in New England then what you see here,” Denenberg said.
Wyeth’s brother-in-law, Peter Hurd (1904-1984), taught him how to work in egg tempera in the 1940s.
“Really a Renaissance technique of working with a very fragile media,” Denenberg said. “That also begins to give you a sense of Wyeth’s somewhat kind of arch temperament; where everyone else was moving toward abstract expressionism and using radiator paint and then acrylic paint, Wyeth adopts a historical method and is a realist, at least ostensibly a realist, in painting these very meticulous paintings.”
Wyeth started sketching “Soaring” in 1942-43.
“It’s seen in public the first time in 1950. Think about that painting in the 1940s and what imagery like that meant at the end of World War II and into the Cold War. And then think about that painting before 1960 when it’s acquired by the Shelburne Museum and what, for instance, a Jackson Pollack would look like. If you conjure a purely abstract painting in your mind from the ‘50s, that is what mainstream American visual culture is in the ‘50s. This becomes something very different, and Wyeth really becomes the painter that the critics love to hate but the masses adore because he is obviously sort of touching a chord,” Denenberg said.
During the creation of “Soaring,” Wyeth kept a live turkey buzzard in his studio that reeked of carrion.
“When you look at these paintings, you will understand that Andrew Wyeth was a very weird painter. And so the whole kind of cool, existential drama of the 1950s and ‘60s when the very ether could just blow up at any given moment with the Cold War, it’s really sort of in the DNA of these paintings. They are dark paintings. There is a lot of voyage of life that goes on. There are narrative paintings … There are paintings that capture natural phenomena,” Denenberg said.