Lot Content

Global notice COVID-19 Important notice
Andrew Wyeth (b. 1917)
signed 'Andrew Wyeth' (lower left)
watercolor on paper
22 x 30¼ in. (55.9 x 76.8 cm.)
Private collection, St. David's, Pennsylvania.
La Galeria, San Mateo, California.
Private collection, Bronxville, New York.
Taggart & Jorgensen Gallery, Washington, D.C.
Private collection.
Art & Antiques, September 1989, p. 13
P. Barton, "The Wyeths: A Dynasty of Superstars", Southwest Art, May 1977, pp. 68, 77
San Mateo, California, La Galeria, Wyeth: N.C., Andrew, James, May 1-June 16, 1977, no. 482
San Francisco, California, La Galeria, Original Works by Andrew Wyeth, November 2-November 30, 1985, no. 557
San Mateo, California, Alma Gilbert Galleries, Inc., Andrew Wyeth and James Wyeth, October 15-November 19, 1988, no. 1026
Burlingame, California, Alma Gilbert Galleries, Inc., The Wyeths: A Family Exhibit, November 5-November 30, 1989, no. 1240

Lot Essay

Executed 1976.

Although Andrew Wyeth is most often recognized for his stirring tempera images of the Pennsylvania countryside and coastal Maine, it is his watercolors that breathe with a substantive vitality and continue to evoke a wide array of emotional imagery. Wyeth began his prolific career at only age 20 with a solo exhibition of watercolors at Macbeth Gallery in New York, which quickly garnered him national recognition.

Wyeth masterfully draws viewers into his space. Even in pure landscapes where no figures are depicted he effectively creates a narrative, establishing a dynamic sense of space. In the present work, one feels a dramatic presence of person and place in an otherwise stark scene. Wyeth comments that he "couldn't get any of this feeling without a very strong connection for a place...It's that I was born here, lived here...things have meaning for me." (as quoted in A.D. Weinberg, "Terra Incognita: Redefining Wyeth's World", Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth, p. 21) Wyeth has always built upon his strong connections to place, limiting most of his works to Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and mid-coast Maine around the area of Cushing.

"Wyeth regards his watercolors as anything but precious. Tears frequently appear along the edges and many are creased or smudged. Working at a furious pace, he may hurl one study to the ground and quickly take up another. Typically his watercolors begin and end outdoors." (B. Venn, "Process of Invention: The Watercolors of Andrew Wyeth", Unknown Terrain: The Landscapes of Andrew Wyeth, New York, 1998, p. 47) Broad colors of saturated ochres and cool blues dominate the open expanse of rugged land meeting sea. Built in 1827, Pemaquid Light, depicted in the present work, sits on a cliff overlooking Muscongus Bay where banks of fog roll in and out with the tides of long rolling waves Wyeth captures in Combers. The fluid style of Wyeth's watercolor technique is especially captivating in this work where he creates sharp contrasts with the vertical and diagonal lines of the building set against the looser washes of color in the rest of the composition. The overall palette and execution of the work suggest a visually moody work, full of turmoil and at the same time, calm reflection.

"Unlike work in his other realistic styles, Wyeth's expressionist paintings only exist in one medium, watercolor...It is easy to dismiss these works as incomplete, muddled missteps. But in fact they disclose how the artist's sensibility, skill, and knowledge of materials are so highly developed that he can capture intangible essences: the character of light (and darkness), the effect of space and, most of all, the sensation of the land itself." ("Terra Incognita: Redefining Wyeth's World", Unknown Terrain: The Landscape of Andrew Wyeth, p. 32) Combers is an emotionally charged composition that reveals Wyeth's reverence for his native terrain.

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

More from Important American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture

View All
View All