The present work depicts Mr. Morris Bornaman's garden on Finntown Road in Maine. Painted in the late summer or early fall of 1977, the choice of pumpkins as a subject reflects the Wyeth family's traditional fascination with the celebration of Halloween and its icons.
Newell Convers Wyeth, Andrew's father, had a deep interest in fantasy and holiday spirit, which was expressed not only in his famed illustrations but also in family life. During the fall, N.C. Wyeth's painting studio would be completely decorated for family parties with symbols of autumn and Halloween, including Indian corn, lanterns, candles and, of course, pumpkins. Growing up in this festive environment and studying his craft under his father, Andrew developed the same love of Halloween and expanded the celebrations. Richard Meryman explains, "Wyeth has made Halloween a personal Walpurgisnacht, an annual reconnection with the unearthly, with witchcraft and hidden meanings. On that day he is electric with fun. He picks the deformed pumpkins and carves them into jack-o'-lanterns, a long lineage of fantastic death masks summoned up from childhood by the remembered scent of candle-heated pumpkin flesh. On Halloween night Wyeth sometimes throws open his studio to the Wyeth clan and cohorts. They raid the NC costume collection..." (Andrew Wyeth: A Secret Life, New York, 1996, p. 99.)
Just like his father, Andrew Wyeth expressed his fascination with Halloween not only in his activities but also in his art. For example, in Jack-Be-Nimble (1976), he depicts a fearsome stack of jack-o'-lanterns dominating a dark, moonlit yard. The present work, while less blatantly referencing All Hollow's Eve, similarly reflects the mysterious and foreboding mood of the holiday. In Pumpkin Hill, a white sky streaked with brownish gray looms over the dark ground, where pumpkins tethered to each other by thin vines seem to arise from a dark brown abyss. The pervading desolation of the scene, despite the fruitful pumpkin plant, creates a feeling of anxiety that is not only characteristic of Halloween but of the artist's oeuvre in general. "Often times people will like a picture I paint because it's maybe the sun hitting on the side of a window and they can enjoy it purely for itself," Wyeth once said. "It reminds them of some afternoon. But for me, behind that picture could be a night of moonlight when I've been in some house in Maine, a night of some terrible tension, or I had this strange mood. Maybe it was Halloween." (as quoted in The New York Times, January 16, 2009)
This watercolor will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.