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Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)

"...A few minutes before we had almost died in a raging blizzard--here was a green valley bathed in sunlight and warmth"

Details
Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
"...A few minutes before we had almost died in a raging blizzard--here was a green valley bathed in sunlight and warmth"
signed 'N.C. Wyeth' (lower right)
oil on gessoed masonite
19 ¼ x 37 in. (48.9 x 94 sm.)
Painted circa 1943-44.
Provenance
Carl B. Owens, circa 1950.
By descent to the present owner.
Literature
D. Erdman, "I Found Shangri-La," True Magazine, vol. XVI, no. XCV, April 1944, p. 32, illustrated.
C.B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. 2, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, pp. 590-91, no. I.1316, illustrated.

Lot Essay

The present work was initially used as an illustration for Douglas Erdman’s story “I Found Shangri-La,” in the April 1944 issue of True Magazine. True, also known in its earlier years as True, The Man’s Magazine, was a Fawcett Publications production that ran between 1937 and 1974.

A few months after the story’s publication, Harvey A. Van Valkenburg, on behalf of Fawcett Publications, wrote in a letter to N.C. Wyeth, “…I neglected to follow through on my original intention of letting you know how much we like the illustration for ‘Shangri-La.’ It was met with ‘bravos’ all the way down the line, and I’d like to pass on a special compliment from Robert Foster, our magazine designer, who remarked that it was one of the finest Wyeths he had ever seen.” (as quoted in C.B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. 2, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, pp. 591)

“…A few minutes before…” depicts three men, bundled in heavy winter garments, staying their horses at the opening of a mountain pass which looks out onto a luxurious green valley below. The men are in shadow, and above the valley loom threatening clouds and snowy mountains, a hint at the harsh terrain the adventurers just passed through. The lush valley before them is bathed in warm sunlight and represents the mystical earthly paradise of Shangri-La, which originates in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon.

Wyeth’s characteristic flair for the romantic and the dramatic is wonderfully demonstrated in “…A few minutes before…”. The nearest horse rears back from the dangerous precipice, and the wonderment of the men is visible in their body postures. Even the landscape itself is high-drama, as the river snakes through the dense and well articulated green valley as the mountains beyond seem to thrust forcefully further and further upward.

In his own time and today, Wyeth was and continues to be celebrated as a giant of American illustration, and “…A few minutes before…” contains many of the signature narrative and stylistic elements by which he attained this stature. Throughout his life, Wyeth enthusiastically glorified American history and spirit, and here he captures the essence of the American passion for adventure and discovery. The rugged explorers pictured here look out onto a scene of fertile, yet treacherous lands, a symbol of the American West as a place of both danger and bounty. On commission for Scribner’s and The Saturday Evening Post, Wyeth traveled throughout the western United States, and the brand of pioneer imagery depicted here is a hallmark of his oeuvre.

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