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"I ax yer parding, Mister Phinn—/Jest drap that whisky-skin"

Wyeth, N.C.
"I ax yer parding, Mister Phinn—/Jest drap that whisky-skin"
signed 'N.C. Wyeth' (upper right)
oil on canvas
32 x 25 in. (81.3 x 63.5 cm.)
Painted in 1912.
Gallery of the Masters, St. Louis, Missouri.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1995.
J. Hay, The Pike County Ballads, Boston, Massachusetts, 1912, p. 26, illustrated.
D. Allen, D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 206.
C.B. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, London, 2008, p. 246, no. I.395.
Washington, D.C., Federal Reserve System, Art of the Illustrator, June 2-Novemer 28, 1997, p. 21, no. 33.
Newport News, Virginia, Peninsula Arts Center, An Artistic Legacy: N.C., Andrew and James Wyeth, June 10-August 17, 2000.
Knoxville, Tennessee, Knoxville Museum of Art, Distant Lands: The Art of the Story, January 19-May 6, 2001, p. 46, no. 46, illustrated.
New York, Dahesh Museum, Stories to Tell, February 14-May 21, 2006, p. 75, no. 87, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

“I ax yer parding, Mister Phinn—/Jest drap that whisky-skin” epitomizes the unmatched sense of visual narrative that has garnered N.C. Wyeth fame as one of America's foremost illustrators. Wyeth established himself in this position by successfully fulfilling countless assignments for America's leading publications, including Treasure Island, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, The Boy's King Arthur and The Last of the Mohicans, among others. From a period during which The Saturday Evening Post declared Wyeth's pictures to have “no equal in his field,” compositions like the present work immerse viewers in the ever-popular adventurous narratives of his day.

Wyeth’s initial attraction to the American frontier came through the drawings and paintings of Frederic Remington and later was more fully reinforced with his own travels West, initially in 1904. At the age of 21, Wyeth set out for Colorado and New Mexico and confronted the magnificent, vast and raw landscape for the first time. In just under three months, he endured a remarkable set of experiences, gathering both stories and physical materials, such as clothing and artifacts, to draw upon for the rest of his career. These travels proved essential to the painter’s ability to convey dramatic Western narratives, such as the present one, with incredible detail and authenticity.

The present work illustrates the poem "The Mystery of Gilgal" within John Hay's The Pike County Ballads of 1871. Taking place during the post-Civil War era, likely on the Western frontier in Pike County, Missouri, this collection of poems uniquely featured vernacular style writing, perhaps seen best in the passage illustrated here: “I ax yer parding, Mister Phinn—/Jest drap that whisky-skin" [sic]. The painting illustrates the moment two tough individuals reach for one drink at the same time, leading one to challenge the other and a dramatic bar brawl to break out, bowie knives and all. The book contained thirty-six illustrations by N.C. Wyeth, ranging from small vignettes to larger complete compositions. In addition to the present work, there are only five other fully finished compositions in the series, with two unlocated, one in a private collection, and two in museum collections: the Museum of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, and the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

In the present work, Wyeth accurately captures both the content and spirit of the tale, with the attitudes of the central figures and the suspense of the scene apparent through body language and facial expression alone. Simultaneously, beyond expertly illustrating the scene, “I ax yer parding, Mister Phinn—/Jest drap that whisky-skin" moreover exemplifies the thrilling and wild lifestyle that Wyeth enthusiastically wrote about in letters home as a young man. Wyeth spoke of the region as truly being “the great West,” sharing in a contemporary fascination and building a foundation of visual representation of the region that continues today.

Wyeth’s best illustrations prompt the viewer to wonder what will happen next. The present painting embodies this unmatched sense of visual narrative, especially in frontier narratives, as well as the technical and compositional skill that have garnered N.C. Wyeth fame as one of America's foremost visual storytellers.

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