Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)
Property from the Collection of Eric and Cynthia Sambol
Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)

Flat Boat

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009)
Flat Boat
watercolor, drybrush and pencil on paper
22¼ x 29¼ in. (56.5 x 74.3 cm.)
Executed in 1988. (2)
Private collection, Greensboro, North Carolina, 1988.
[With]Frank E. Fowler, Lookout Mountain, Tennessee.
Acquired by the present owners from the above, 2001.
Jacksonville Art Museum, Andrew Wyeth: Southeastern Collections, Jacksonville, Florida, 1992, n.p., no. 75, pl. 31.
Contemporary Great Masters--Andrew Wyeth, exhibition catalogue, Tokyo, Japan, 1993, p. 81, illustrated.
M.R. Severens, K. Wilber, Andrew Wyeth: America's Painter, New York, 1996, n.p., no. 31, pl. 75, illustrated.
Jacksonville, Florida, Jacksonville Art Museum, Andrew Wyeth: Southeastern Collections, January 19-April 19, 1992, no. 75.
Greenville, South Carolina, Greenville County Museum of Art, and elsewhere, Andrew Wyeth: America's Painter, June 18-September 15, 1996, no. 31.

Lot Essay

Throughout his career, Andrew Wyeth was interested in depicting the calm steadiness that characterized the rural communities in which he lived. Attracted to the simple permanence of farm life, his landscapes are rarely narrative or dramatic, instead they tend toward a sense of meditative contemplation. In Flat Boat, through exacting technique, brilliant use of light and mastery of medium, Wyeth transforms an overlooked, obscure corner of Brinton's Mill in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, into a powerful representation of the complexity of the human experience within the rural landscape.

Andrew Wyeth was reared in Chadds Ford and trained as an artist under his father's tutelage. A renowned illustrator, N.C. Wyeth implored upon his son the importance of finding profound meaning amid mundane subject matter. Furthermore, N.C. Wyeth taught Andrew the philosophies of Henry David Thoreau which inspired Andrew's intense observation of the natural world. By concentrating on familiar images, many of which existed within nature, Wyeth succeeded in conveying an evocative universal message, such as that which is present in Flat Boat.

In Flat Boat, Wyeth conveys an unyielding durability through the sturdy tree in the central composition. The plainness of the building at left and subtle sense of aging created by the gray tonality of the stone further emphasizes the setting's feeling of permanence. The stillness of the water underscores the tranquility of the scene. Wyeth imbues the landscape with a sense of gravity through his limited palette of browns and grays, further conveying the profound significance he interpreted in every day views. The drama of the landscape is heightened by the cropped composition and narrow view of the mill. John Wilmerding writes, "Wyeth's landscapes often seem as distilled and abstracted as still lifes, focusing on fragments of nature or objects within the view, or composed with a still-life sensibility." (Andrew Wyeth: Memory & Magic, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2005, p. 15) As a result, the viewer not only appreciates the individuality seen in even common objects such as the boat in the foreground but also feels a sense of isolation from the larger world. This morose aloneness is mirrored in how the amorphous tree stands with branches stripped of any leaves. To counteract this, Wyeth introduces a welcoming vitality to the scene with the brilliant play of light reflecting off of the tree trunk and millpond at lower right imbuing the scene with a sense of hope and promise.

Beyond the concentration on form and line evident in the present work, the watercolor is also abstract in feeling. He does not create a photographic depiction of what he has seen; rather, the work is an expression of intensified reality with a psychological influence at the heart of its creation. The tied, but empty row boat creates a sense of uncertainty about who left it behind. Wyeth suggested this mind-oriented element in his work when he cryptically stated, "It's not what you put in but what you leave out that counts." (Andrew Wyeth: Memory & Magic, p. 37) Indeed, Flat Boat clearly depends on this creative approach to compositional devices and abstracted reality to convey its pervading aura of mysterious rural quietude.

This work will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.

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