In Wash Tub Wyeth employs watercolor to successfully capture the solitary tone of a winter day. The only sense of movement in the work is the towel on the clothesline blowing in the wind, the only indication of life the three birds in the foreground. The work achieves a stark quality of emotional familiarity; a house and landscape that appear reminiscent to the viewer yet presented in a new light by the artist. Wyeth comments, "There are always new emotions in going back to something that I know very well. I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure in the landscape--the loneliness of it--the dead feeling of winter. Something waits beneath it--the whole story doesn't show." (as quoted in J. Wilmerding, Andrew Wyeth: The Helga Pictures, exhibition catalogue, New York, 1987, p. 182)
While his subjects are very real, Wyeth casts his own sentiments and emotions into his works rendering them abstract. "In his art, Wyeth creates a protected world filled with nonthreatening objects on which he can project his own thoughts...Wyeth has retained an ability to perceive emotion and intelligence in inanimate objectsIn the safe, fictional realm of his art, he explores complex and difficult feelings, develops inchoate ideas, formulates and solves questions related to temporality, embodiment, and the metaphysical, and defies the laws of nature by animating insensate things. In this way, he identifies with objects and creates a distinctively private iconography." (p. 45)
The present work depicts the back of Alexander Chandler's house in Dilworthtown, Pennsylvania located about two miles up the road from Wyeth's home, Brinton's Mill, in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which he and his wife, Betsy, purchased in 1958. The two men were friends and in 1955 Chandler sat for Wyeth to paint his portrait (Alexander Chandler, Private collection). The following year, Wyeth painted Granddaughter (1956, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut) depicting Chandler and his granddaughter, Cathy Hunt, in front of Chandler's house. In Wash Tub Wyeth approaches the Chandler's house with the same intensity and attention to detail as he does the inhabitants. He adeptly captures the varying textures of the rocks, wooden slats and shingles of the building, which spans nearly the entire composition, in such a manner as to almost render the work a portrait of the structure. "Wyeth's ambition is to be able to submerge himself totally in his subjects and their lives, achieving such intimacy that it will inevitably permeate his painting." (R. Meryman, Andrew Wyeth, Boston, Massachusetts, 1968, p. 22) The care, delicacy and concern with which Wyeth portrays his subject in Wash Tub makes for a deeply personal and intimate picture. In his hyper-real presentation of the house, Wyeth captures a sense of the absent inhabitants and all that they emblematize for him.
This watercolor will be included in Betsy James Wyeth's forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the artist's works.