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

Odysseus and Calypso

Newell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945)
Odysseus and Calypso
signed 'N.C. Wyeth' (lower right)
oil on canvas
48 x 38 in. (121.9 x 96.5 cm.)
Painted in 1929.
Mrs. T. Whitney Blake, Katonah, New York, 1930.
Reuben Gordon.
Samuel Saber, gift from the above, 1970.
Private collection, gift from the above, circa 1990.
Sotheby's, New York, 22 May 2008, lot 102.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
G.H. Palmer, trans., The Odyssey of Homer, Boston, Massachusetts, 1929, n.p., illustrated.
D. Allen, D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 213.
D. Michaelis, N.C. Wyeth: A Biography, New York, 1998, p. 315.
C. Podmaniczky, N.C. Wyeth: A Catalogue Raisonné, vol. II, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, p. 513, no. I.1096, illustrated.
Boston, Massachusetts, St. Botolph Club, An Exhibition of Illustrations for The Odyssey by N.C. Wyeth, January 17-February 1, 1930, no. 6.
Wilmington, Delaware, Wilmington Society of the Fine Arts, Exhibition of Paintings by N.C. Wyeth, February 28-March 14, 1930, no. 22 (as Calypso and Odysseus).

Lot Essay

Painted in 1929, Odysseus and Calypso accompanied the text of Charles Herbert Palmer's translation of The Odyssey by Homer. No small feat for an illustrator to create imagery for one of the best known texts in history, the publisher, Houghton Mifflin, contacted Newell Convers Wyeth, the leading illustrator of the time. The artist was already beloved by the public for his work for Scribner's Classic, illustrating such colorful stories as Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe and as such, his work was in high demand.

Wyeth was a student of Howard Pyle, the "father of American illustration," at his eponymous school of art. Under Pyle's tutelage, Wyeth honed his technical skills while developing his innate ability for narrative and drama on the canvas. Pyle thought illustration was the only authentically American art form, and subsequently instilled in Wyeth a sense of confidence and daring. As Christine B. Podmaniczky writes, Pyle "taught the 'tricks' of his trade, such as his hallmark emphasis on dramatic moment by marking it in stark contrast between bright light and deep shadow, a forceful use of diagonals in the composition, and the placement of figures in the foreground to lure the viewer into the picture." (N.C. Wyeth: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, vol. one, London, 2008, p. 23)

Discussing his approach to the illustration of literature, N.C. Wyeth wrote that it is the illustrator's purpose to "be engaged as a potent addition to an author's works and not merely a collection of pictures starring for themselves, bent on dividing the reader's attention and further depleting the splendid illusions created by the text...Consequently his initial demand of the illustrator is to strike at the very heart of a story; to paint in vivid colors and masses, bold statements of the important characters." ("A Suggestion and a Comment on Illustrating Fiction," New York Times, October 13, 1912) Perhaps no better statement describes Wyeth's The Odyssey of Homer illustrations, of which he completed 16 in oil. Using a vivid palette applied with his characteristically stylized yet painterly brushstroke, Wyeth illustrated Homer's classic tale with a vigor that parallels and compliments the drama of The Odyssey.

In Homer's The Odyssey, Calypso, a Greek goddess, encounters Odysseus when he washes ashore following a shipwreck. In this part of the tale, the nymph Calypso has detained the hero Odysseus for seven years on her island of Ogygia and seduced him with her song in an effort to make him her eternal husband. However, while enchanted with Calypso at night, during the day Odysseus longs to return to his wife Penelope. Finally, Zeus orders Odysseus's release and Calypso eventually complies. In the 1929 volume, this illustration was captioned: "Unhappy man, sorrow no longer here, nor let your days be wasted, for I at last will freely let you go."


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