Whether seen in a rolling landscape of Pennsylvania, a dramatic seascape of coastal Maine or an intimate still-life and interior, Andrew Wyeth's paintings bear witness to a human presence and the passage of time. In his most successful works, the artist uses objects as portraiture to allude to an elusive narrative often embedded in the highly finished and universal imagery of his paintings and watercolors. "Even today, Wyeth delights in painting the wonderful and strange, especially if they can be presented in everyday form and in as straightforward a manner as possible. The result, not surprisingly, is that his art is not always what it seems." (T.F. Wolff, Wondrous Strange, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1998, p. 91) In Sundown, executed in 1969 at the artist's home on Bradford Point in Cushing, Maine, Wyeth has used the familiar image of a pumpkin, a recurring image throughout his body of work, to hint at an ambiguously whimsical yet haunting narrative of rural New England.
"Although celebrated as a great American realist, Andrew Wyeth has generally offered mystery rather than certainty in his art. The power of the unseen at work in nature and in human life gives his art its power and unique presence...Clearly, like his father, N.C. Wyeth, Andrew has sought and found certain strategies to communicate with a broad, now international audience. That audience has the opportunity to go deep into his art, to find the elusive spirit that has animated these exquisite panels from the outset of the artist's adventure." (S.C. Larsen, Wondrous Strange, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1998, p. 18) Growing up in the home of a famed illustrator, Andrew was exposed to the elaborate costumes and displays his father would use as inspiration for some his most celebrated illustrations, including paintings for Treasure Island, The Last of the Mohicans (see lot 82), and countless stories for widely distributed publications. A sophisticated drawing of medieval knights is one of Andrew's earliest known finished works and numerous photographs show Andrew with friends and siblings engaged in elaborate costumed games of Robin Hood. "The interest in the macabre and fantastic was already apparent in Wyeth's childhood. Dracula, witches, brave knights defending justice, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, dominated his imagination during his formative years and continued to hold special attraction for him well into his maturity." (Wondrous Strange, p. 91)
"From the start of his career, Andrew Wyeth has been very much aware of those things that endure and those that pass away. His is an art which does not dwell upon itself or upon topical issues of the day, but one that ponders elemental, timeless moments of wonder in the presence of nature. Wyeth's regard for nature includes human beings, their actions, qualities of mind, and outward appearance." (Wondrous Strange, p. 18) In Sundown, he has depicted a pumpkin, which foremost lends a sense of immediacy to the composition and universal recognition with his viewers. A quiet and haunting drama pervades the scene, rendered in the deep shadows of the buildings in the background and the eerie evening light which is cast on the side of the pumpkin. He has captured this "strange light of Halloween" while at the same time demonstrated his regard for tradition and symbolism of the passage of time. The combination of light and color in Sundown immediately communicates the smell, texture and overall air of the end of a fall day and the emotions associated with a holiday that seems especially embedded in New England tradition and the people and way of life the artist holds in such high regard.
"The deeper one's involvement with Wyeth's art, the more one realizes how totally and happily he exists in every square inch of his paintings, and how seriously and imaginatively he considers how best to transform even the most insignificant detail of what lies before him into art. That, as much as the frquently provocative nature of his themes, the subtly brooding aura of his imagery, and the formal perfection of his compositions, is the source of the exceptional 'wondrous strange' nature of much of his art." (Wondrous Strange, p. 93)
This watercolor will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's work.