The present painting is one of the last oil paintings executed by Andrew Wyeth before he turned to working in the medium of egg tempera, which he learned from his brother-in-law and artist, Peter Hurd. Inspired by the distinct green, brown and ochre colors of the Pennsylvania landscape, in the present work Wyeth poignantly captures the mood of a passing storm executed with an artistic virtuosity and bravura of brushwork characteristic of the artists early works. Although the tonality of the scene is muted, Wyeth instills a heightened sense of color in the landscape by contrasting the dark rolling clouds with wisps of pure white pigment, echoing the feeling of isolation and establishing a mood of narrative tension. Reminiscent of the powerful images of Prouts Neck, Maine by Winslow Homer from the 1890s, Wyeth arranges a dynamic composition of diagonal lines, leading the viewer into the scene along the fence rail at the lower edge of the canvas and along the dirt road which crests along the horizon and presumably leads one up to the ominous barn placed stoically along the hillside with towering trees behind.
Whereas in later paintings Wyeth would utilize the drybrush medium to layer pigments, here in Hoffman's Barn he expertly uses the oil paint to vary the surface of his composition, lending an even more immediate and tactile quality to the narrative. In the foreground he has scratched into the paint surface to highlight details of the grass, a technique Wyeth would revisit throughout his career, even scraping into the paper of his watercolor and drybrush paintings to achieve the quality of light and texture he desired.
The first living artist to receive a retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Andrew Wyeth's imagery is a testament to his longevity and constant re-invention, while staying true to the people and places that continually inspire him. Hoffman's Barn is a testament to this permanence, a superb early example from one of the most noted figures in twentieth century American art.
This work will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.