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Andrew Wyeth's Helga Pictures: An Intimate Study


Never before shown at a Midwestern museum, selections from Andrew Wyeth's acclaimed Helga series will go on view at Joslyn Art Museum on May 4, 2002. The exhibition, entitled Andrew Wyeth's Helga Pictures: An Intimate Study, will continue through August 4, 2002 and features 70 works (chosen by Joslyn Art Museum from 240 artworks in the Helga suite) by renowned American artist Andrew Wyeth, including tempera and drybrush paintings, watercolors, and pencil studies. This rare exhibition presents Wyeth's intense and insightful study of a single sitter - neighbor Helga Testorf - over the course of 15 years. An amazing highlight of the exhibition is a new painting of Helga, entitled Gone, that Wyeth just completed in March, 2002 - 30 years after the two first met. The work, a tempera on panel, will have its first public showing at Joslyn during this exhibition.

The Helga pictures first galvanized public attention in 1986, when numerous articles appeared in the press about a large cache of work by Wyeth, previously unknown not only to the art world but even to the artist's wife. At first, great attention was given to Wyeth's private project - depicting the same subject in secrecy from 1971 to 1985. Away from the extensive publicity that accompanied the debut of these works, they remain a striking, thoughtful study of an individual who evolved as a model from stranger to acquaintance to friend. The works in Andrew Wyeth's Helga Pictures may also be appreciated for their artistic strengths and for their place within Wyeth's continuing career as a keen observer of the people and places around his residences in Pennsylvania and Maine. Ultimately, Andrew Wyeth's Helga Pictures is a telling tale of a persistence of vision and technique from a perspective that is both objective and personal.

From a distinguished artistic family, Andrew Wyeth (born 1917) is a talented painter and draftsman who developed under the watchful eye of his father, the artist/illustrator N. C. Wyeth. One of America's most celebrated artists, Wyeth is famous for his tight style of drybrush painting and recognizable subject matter. Dedicated to a characteristic realism in both style and approach to subject matter, Wyeth finds resonance and universal meaning in the most commonplace details of the world around him. (left: Andrew Wyeth, In the Orchard, 1974, watercolor, ©AM Art, Inc., on view in the special exhibition Andrew Wyeth's Helga Pictures: An Intimate Study at Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, NE), May 4-August 4, 2002)

Wyeth had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1937 at the Macbeth Gallery, a sell-out show that began an impressive career of exhibitions and honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The mythic painting Christina's World (1948) quickly became a Wyeth icon, branding him master of an intense, detailed vision of the ordinary. Wyeth's work continues to be seen at prestigious galleries and museums internationally. The special exhibition Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends, regarding his images of African-American subjects, has just concluded a tour of southern museums.

Andrew Wyeth's work is held by museums and private collections around the world, including Joslyn Art Museum. Andrew Wyeth's 1959 watercolor Half Bushel is part of Joslyn's permanent collection. Additionally, Joslyn owns a 1919 work by N.C. Wyeth (Andrew's father) - Untitled (Illustration for Fisk Cord Tires Advertisement), oil on canvas mounted on masonite - and a 1980 work by James Wyeth (Andrew's son) entitled Portrait of 75, 86, 91, 93, 84, oil on canvas. Two American museums feature extensive holdings of his work - the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.

When Wyeth first met the Prussian-born Helga Testorf in 1971, she was 32 years old and helping to look after an elderly neighbor, Karl Kuerner (a friend of Wyeth's and occasional subject of his works). A Chadds Ford resident since 1961, Testorf was a wife, mother, baker, music teacher, and caretaker. As a result of her association with Wyeth, she has also pursued interests in painting and poetry. Although she had not sat for an artist before, Testorf found she enjoyed the long, pensive hours spent modeling for Wyeth, a profound experience about which former sitters have frequently commented. Still very private, Testorf continues her connection with the Wyeths, acting as a caregiver for the aging artist.

The series comprising the Helga pictures numbers 240 individual works that range from a small group of highly finished compositions to an array of spontaneously conceived sketches and studies, created from 1971-85. When in 1985 Wyeth revealed this collection to his wife, they quietly determined to seek a single home for all the artworks. In 1986, Leonard E. B. Andrews purchased the series and made it available for a coast-to-coast tour organized by the National Gallery of Art from 1987-89. Sometime after the conclusion of the series debut, the Helga pictures came into the ownership of a private Japanese interest, which continues to allow access to the works through select public exhibitions such as this. (left: Andrew Wyeth, Braids, 1979, tempera, ©AM Art, Inc., on view in the special exhibition Andrew Wyeth's Helga Pictures: An Intimate Study at Joslyn Art Museum (Omaha, NE), May 4-August 4, 2002)

Andrew Wyeth's Helga Pictures was organized by Joslyn Art Museum and is sponsored in part by Douglas County; Charles W. Durham; Gail and Michael Yanney; ConAgra Foods, Inc.; Robert H. Storz Foundation; Charles and Mary Heider; and the Omaha World-Herald Foundation. Additional support is provided by Ameritas Investment Corp.; Commercial Federal Bank; First National Bank of Omaha; Ken and Ann Stinson; Harold and Marian Andersen; the Alan and Marcia Baer Foundation; Sylvia B. Cohn; SilverStone Group; Eve and Fred Simon; and Cindy and Tom McGowan. Joslyn Art Museum extends its thanks to Ann K. R. Nitze of Ann Kendall Richards, Inc. for her assistance with this exhibition. After the Omaha exhibition closes to the public, the works will return to the facility in which this privately owned collection is housed.

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