Acclaimed for his murals since his first foray into the large-scale format for The Hotel Utica in 1911, N.C. Wyeth received commissions from major institutions throughout his career. Difficult, even for many accomplished artists, "Wyeth...gladly accepted the challenges of mural painting and executed many outstanding murals in the course of his career." (D. Allen and D. Allen, Jr., N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, p. 157)
In 1939, Wyeth received his final mural commission, from The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. This series of fourteen panels, one of which Massasoit is a preparatory study for (fig. 1), were to "serve as a graphic and dramatic expression of the spirit of New England." (N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, p. 169) Beginning with The Coming of The Mayflower and ending with The Wedding Procession, which portrays the marriage of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, the murals depict the early experiences of the Pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Other topics include the preparation for the first Thanksgiving feast, the actual feast, as well as depictions of everyday life, such as harvesting crops and attending church.
Wyeth was particularly excited about The Metropolitan Life Insurance Murals as he relished the opportunity to convey his pride in his own New England heritage. He described his strong patriotism for the region: "New England was where I was born, raised and educated. I felt, therefore, that of all the subjects possible, this was the one I knew best. The romance of early colonization, especially that of the Pilgrims in Massachusetts, had always excited me. My ancestor, Nicholas Wyeth, came from Wales to Massachusetts in 1647. The spirit of early days on the Massachusetts coast was an oft-discussed subject in my home. I was born in Needham, not far from the town of Plymouth, to which I made many pilgrimages during my boyhood, spending thrilling days in and around that historic territory. With this as a background, it was natural that my mind and heart should fly to Plymouth and to the Pilgrims as a fitting and appropriate subject for a series of New England paintings. If then, the warmth and appeal of these paintings is apparent to those who study them, it is principally because they are, in some related way, a statement of my own life and heritage. All creative expression, be it in painting, writing, or music, if it pretends to appeal warmly and eloquently, must spring from the artist's own factual and emotional experience." (as quoted in N.C. Wyeth: The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, p. 171)
The Metropolitan Life Murals remained incomplete at the time of Wyeth's sudden death in 1945, though he had spent much of the past six years working on them. Intent on seeing his father's final project through, Andrew Wyeth along with his brother-in-law, John W. McCoy, completed the murals. The large-scale painted version of Massasoit was completed by John W. McCoy, who originally owned the present work.
This work will be included in the N.C. Wyeth catalogue raisonné database that is being compiled by the Brandywine River Museum and Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.