Bull Run is part of an important body of work depicting the Kuerner farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. "Some of my earliest watercolors were done there," Wyeth comments. "When I was about ten years old, I had an urge to paint it, curiously enough; it never became a conscious effort or something about which I said to myself, 'I must continue this work.' I've gone on for years and not painted there. Then, all of a sudden, I'll have a strong compulsion to go back." He continues, "I didn't go to that farm because it was in any way bucolic. Actually I'm not terribly interested in farming. The abstract, almost military quality of that farm originally appealed to me and still does...To see the hills capped with snow in the wintertime or to look at the tawniness of the fields in the fall all made me want to paint it. But here again, I backed into it. I didn't think it was a picturesque place. It just excited me, purely abstractly and purely emotionally." (as quoted in Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1976, p. 40)
Bull Run is a complete narrative, capturing not only the distinct landscape of Kuerner's Farm but also a telling portrait of the personality and livelihood of its inhabitants. "Every afternoon the cows at Kuerner's would run in from the fields. I'd be struck by the hollow sound of the hoofs on the tar road of the cows--they'd just tear along-to get the fresh hay. If you stood in front of them, they'd just mow you down. It's a picture of movement. And sounds." (as quoted in Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, Andrew Wyeth Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Nagoya, Japan, 1995, p. 245) Bull Run is a departure from the eerily calm and frequently silent pictures most often associated with Wyeth. Exploiting the white of the paper and applying watercolor with an economy of wash in the tracks and shadows, Wyeth subtly indicates the surrounding winter landscape--creating an almost abstract composition. Balancing this openness Wyeth has also deftly layered transparent washes in the forms of the bulls to underscore the movement in the scene, contrasted with the richer yet still delicate application of pigment in the trees. Wyeth makes a point of saying "Why not have the abstraction and the real, too? Combine the two, bring in the new with the traditional and you can't beat it. I believe, however, that I don't want to let the one take over the other. I try for an equal balance...I want the object to be there in my paintings, perhaps in all of its smallest detail, not as a tour de force, but naturally, in such a way that I have backed into it." (Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, p. 18)
Whether in Maine or Pennsylvania, Wyeth continues to identify his works with a strong connection to place. "I feel freer in surroundings that I don't have to be conscious of. I'll say that I love the object, or I love the hill. But that hill sets me free. I could wander over countless hills. But this one hill becomes thousands of hills to me. In finding this one object, I find a world. I think a great painting is a painting that funnels itself in and then funnels out, spreads out. I enter in a very focused way and then I go through it and way beyond it. A painting has to come naturally, freely, organically in a sense, through the back door." (Two Worlds of Andrew Wyeth: Kuerners and Olsons, p. 24)
This watercolor will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.