Andrew Wyeth died at 91 today. The New York Times’s Michael Kimmelman wrote:
Wyeth gave America a prim and flinty view of Puritan rectitude, starchily sentimental, through parched gray and brown pictures of spooky frame houses, desiccated fields, deserted beaches, circling buzzards and craggy-faced New Englanders. A virtual Rorschach test for American culture during the better part of the last century, Wyeth split public opinion as vigorously as, and probably even more so than, any other American painter including the other modern Andy, Warhol, whose milieu was as urban as Wyeth’s was rural.
Because of his popularity, a bad sign to many art world insiders, Wyeth came to represent middle-class values and ideals that modernism claimed to reject, so that arguments about his work extended beyond painting to societal splits along class, geographical and educational lines. One art historian, in response to a 1977 survey in Art News magazine about the most underrated and overrated artists of the century, nominated Wyeth for both categories. [ . . . ]
John Updike took up the same cause 25 years later: “In the heyday of Abstract Expressionism, the scorn was simple gallery politics; but resistance to Wyeth remains curiously stiff in an art world that has no trouble making room for Photorealists like Richard Estes and Philip Pearlstein and graduates of commercial art like Wayne Thibauld, Andy Warhol, and for that matter, Edward Hopper.” [ . . . ]
Wyeth remained a polarizing figure even as the traditional 20th century distinction between abstraction and avant-gardism on the one hand and realism and conservatism on the other came to seem woefully inadequate and false. The only indisputable truth was that his art existed within a diverse American context that encompassed illustrators like his father, N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell, and also landscape painters like John Marin, Winslow Homer, Albert Bierstadt and Fitz Hugh Lane.
Andrew Wyeth, Revered and Ridiculed Artist, Dies (New York Times)