Editor's note: The following text was reprinted in Resource Library on April 29, 2010 with permission of the Brandywine River Museum. If you have questions or comments regarding the text, please contact the Brandywine River Museum directly through either this phone number or web address:


N. C. Wyeth and the Philadelphia Sketch Club

March 20 - May 23, 2010


The Brandywine River Museum was invited to participate in a year-long, area-wide celebration marking the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Philadelphia Sketch Club. As possible exhibition subjects were considered, we realized that N. C. Wyeth was the link between the Museum's collection and Sketch Club history.

The Philadelphia Sketch Club was formed in 1860 by six artists who had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The six felt they needed a "sketching club" to improve their skills in design and illustration, and soon life drawing classes were offered. Membership grew and included painters, printmakers, sculptors, and architects. By 1894, the Sketch Club had over 400 members who maintained an ambitious exhibition program and social calendar. Thomas Anshutz, Howard Chandler Christy, Thomas Eakins, A. B. Frost, Daniel Garber, Thomas Moran, Joseph Pennell, and Edward Redfield were among the members over the ensuing years.

N. C. Wyeth joined the Sketch Club in 1911 and in November 1912, the Club presented a one-man exhibition of his work. Wyeth selected ten of his recent illustrations, including three pictures from Treasure Island, and about two dozen landscapes. It was his first one-man show* and the first time he exhibited the landscape studies that had occupied him for the preceding four/five years.

N. C. Wyeth and the Philadelphia Sketch Club brings together and examines some of the paintings in Wyeth's Sketch Club exhibition.


The Landscapes

N. C. Wyeth moved permanently to Chadds Ford in 1908, and there began to work seriously on his landscape painting abilities. The impetus came from several sources. Even as his fame as an illustrator grew, Wyeth felt the sting of the term "illustrator," and he saw his foray into landscape work as a step to building a reputation as an "artist." He also was completely captivated by the local scenery and would remain so for the rest of his life. He felt he could only paint the landscape if he knew his surroundings thoroughly and intimately through constant study.

No longer controversial or "foreign" by this time, impressionist styles dominated American landscape painting and were kept in the forefront of popular art by members of "The Ten." It was logical then that Wyeth should begin with impressionist views. He adopted the well-recognized techniques of impressionist painting-eschewing hard outlines, sharply defined forms, and intense shadows, while concentrating on natural light effects and color arrangement, even in conditions such as rain, snow, and haze. His brushwork was loose, and he avoided grays and blacks. He seems to have taken the "plein air" aspect of impressionism to heart, for his letters document that he worked outdoors, even in the winter. He chose about two dozen landscapes for the exhibition-from research it would seem that they were all small (20 x 24, or 26 x 24, for example) and all impressionist studies.

Wyeth's correspondence from the period is sprinkled with comments about many of the well-known American impressionists-Benson, DeCamp, Hassam, Metcalf, Reid Tarbell, Twachtman, and Weir-but none of them seems to have been of particular influence for any major length of time, and eventually all came in for his criticism.


The Illustrations

The ten illustrations Wyeth included in the Sketch Club exhibition were drawn from recent work. Visitors would have recognized many of the images from reproductions in popular books or leading magazines. Interestingly, Bill Bones and Old Pew were on display concurrently at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts during the 10th Annual Philadelphia Water Color Exhibition.


Criticism and After

The exhibition was mentioned in many of the Philadelphia and Wilmington newspapers, generally in favorable, if occasionally insipid, remarks equally divided between the landscapes and the illustrations. A critic writing in The Philadelphia Inquirer, however, condemned the landscapes as the work of an unsure craftsman and indifferent colorist, and used the selection of illustrations as an opportunity to write against the perceived tendency of all American illustrators to slavishly imitate Howard Pyle. This particular review affected Wyeth deeply.

During the teens, when most of his income was derived from illustration work, Wyeth maintained the styles of those illustrations in the Sketch Club exhibition. But he quickly lost interest in rendering the landscape in impressionist styles. By the late teens he dismissed the work of most major American impressionists as "ephemeral, mere whispering sweetness." Ultimately, N. C. Wyeth was too interested in man's relationship with his natural surroundings to continue painting pure landscapes; he was too robust an artist, his personality too "virile" (a word he loved to use) to paint in impressionist styles for long. He was also too much of a realist. After the Sketch Club exhibition, Wyeth became interested in the work of the Swiss-Italian painter Segantini, and throughout the teens his major landscapes, such as Newborn Calf (1917), drew on Segantini's form of "divisionism." Later in his career Wyeth, master of many styles, produced seascapes in the lush romantic style of Winslow Homer as well as photo-realistic depictions of the Brandywine countryside.

The present exhibition includes paintings that were in the Sketch Club exhibition, or paintings that are similar to those that were shown. Identifying which landscapes were in the exhibition was a challenge, and there is more material in the gallery that explains the research.

*Note: "One-man show," a common term in today's art vocabulary, was used at the time of Wyeth's Sketch Club exhibition. Several of the newspaper reviews called the exhibition a one-man show, and Wyeth himself used the term in a letter to his family.

-- by Christine Podmaniczky, Associate Curator, N.C. Wyeth Collections

(above: N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), Chadds Ford Landscape-July 1909, 1909, Oil on canvas. Collection of the Brandywine River Museum. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth)


Case and object label text from the exhibition

Case Labels
11. Early Summer
Although the painting pictured above historically has been known as "Stimson in the Garden," it is the only known painting that fits the description given in a newspaper review for the work titled Early Summer - "tender greens and brown upturned earth with a man plowing in the middle distance." However, there are no marks on the reverse to confirm the earlier title.
12. Gray Day
This painting still carries the title on the reverse. A favorite of the artist, it was prominently displayed during the 1910s in the Wyeth home. It is privately owned and unavailable for exhibition.
13. Harvey's Run
This painting carries the title and exhibition number on the reverse. Joseph H. Chapin, art editor at Scribner's, took an interest in the Sketch Club exhibition, and Wyeth gave this painting to him in 1913. It is privately owned and unavailable for exhibition.
24. The Wounded Dispatch Bearer
The title is sufficient to identify the painting as an illustration for Sally Castleton, Southerner, a story that appeared in the June 1912 issue of Everybody's Magazine. One critic wrote that the painting is a "striking example of the vigor and power of what is practically a new school of illustrative art." It is privately owned and unavailable for exhibition.
25. The Hayload
A black and white photograph of this painting accompanied a review of the exhibition published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Nov. 5, 1912. Originally, the image was painted for the cover of the August 1912 issue of Popular Magazine. It is privately owned and unavailable for exhibition.
26. The Confederate
There are no clues to help identify this image. In the few years before the Sketch Club exhibition, Wyeth illustrated several Civil War stories, and the nebulous title could apply to any number of paintings.
31. Huns
This title could apply to either of two paintings Wyeth completed prior to the Sketch Club exhibition, both illustrations for a story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Fortunately, a remark in a review published in The [Wilmington, Delaware] Morning News, Nov. 20, 1912, described Huns in enough detail to distinguish it from the alternative work. The painting is known by reproduction only.
32. Sloppy Weather and High Spirits
This painting is likely the companion to the painting numbered 30, "Rainy Sunday in Camp." Both were published in the January 1912 issue of Scribner's Magazine. Scribner's presented the painting to Dr. John Lovejoy Elliott, founder of Hudson Guild, a New York City community organization, and it has since disappeared.
Object Labels
Title unknown (Chadds Ford landscape with brook)
Oil on canvas, circa 1910
Collection of Mark and Sally Poulsen
This painting is marked on the reverse: "(illegible)PRING / NO. (illegible, possibly a 3, 6 or 8)." Spring Sunlight, number 3 in the Sketch Club exhibition list, is probably the original title.
The Village
Oil on canvas, circa 1910/1911
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. Winther
This painting is clearly marked on the reverse: "THE VILLAGE / NO. V." The artist depicted the view from the house he rented between April 1908 and March 1911, looking down to the village of Chadds Ford.
Rocky Hill
Oil on canvas, circa 1911/1912
Permanent Collection
Bequest of Carolyn Wyeth, 1996
This painting is marked on the reverse: "ROCKY HILL / No. 6." The view was painted on the artist's Chadds Ford property which he acquired in March 1911.
The frame was found in the N. C. Wyeth studio in 1995. Photographs of the Wyeth living room taken between 1910 and 1920 show that it is similar to the frames the artist used on the landscapes from this period.
Oil on canvas, circa 1911/1912
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Frank E. Fowler
This painting is marked on one stretcher: "# 9 the Boulders" and on another "No. 7 BOULDERS." "Boulders" is number 6 in the printed catalogue.
Henriette in the Orchard
Oil on canvas, circa 1909 / 1910
Permanent Collection
Gift of Ruth A. Yerion, 1980
Historically, this painting was known in the Wyeth family as Henriette in the Orchard, and there is no evidence it was included in the Sketch Club exhibition. It is very similar, however, in composition and technique to number 12, Gray Day, which could not be borrowed for this exhibition.
Oil on canvas, circa 1911/1912
Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection
This painting is marked on the reverse: "FEBRUARY / NO. 10." The village of Chadds Ford is seen from a site along Creek Road, looking south past the John Chad house with the barn below that no longer exists.
Sultry Day
Oil on canvas, circa 1909/1910
Collection of Keith D. Stoltz
This painting is marked on the reverse, "A Sultry Day," making it number 9 in the exhibition. In the mid-distance is the barn adjacent to the property Wyeth rented from April 1908 to March 1911, with the village of Chadds Ford in the distance.
The Meadow
Oil on canvas, circa 1909/1911
Private Collection
Photo documentation attached to the reverse shows that this painting was marked originally "The Meadow," making it number 14 in the Sketch Club exhibition.
Oil on canvas, circa 1910/1912
Private Collection
This painting is marked on the reverse: "Autumn 12."
Summer Sky
Oil on canvas, circa 1911/1912
Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Jamie Wyeth
This painting is marked on the reverse: "SUMMER SKY 19." In the course of conservation treatment in 2005, an x-radiograph of the canvas revealed shadowy lines that indicate Wyeth may have painted over another image. The x-radiograph was not clear enough to identify the underpainting, but the size of the canvas suggests the original work may have been one of the head- or tailpieces for The Pike County Ballads, a group of paintings Wyeth is known to have painted over.
Title unknown (view of Chadds Ford)
Oil on canvas, circa 1908/1911
Private Collection
Old conservation treatment has obscured the inscriptions on the reverse. While the style of writing and notation seem to match that of the other paintings for the Sketch Club exhibition, the exact reference to title and catalogue number is almost illegible. There is a trace of "RNOON / NO." which suggests the painting may have been exhibited at the Sketch Club as Hazy Afternoon.
This was the artist's view looking toward Chadds Ford from the property he rented between April 1908 and March 1911.
Forsythe's Hill
Oil on canvas, 1912
Collection of Thomas B. T. Baldwin
This painting is marked on the reverse, "FORSYTHES HILL 23," although in the catalogue it was listed as number 21, Forsyth's Hill. Wyeth painted Forsythe's Hill, on the western side of the Brandywine and north of Route 1, several other times in the mid-1910s.
The Brook
Oil on canvas, 1910
Estate of H. Richard Dietrich, Jr.
This painting is marked "NO. 4" on the reverse in the same style as the other paintings in the Sketch Club exhibition, but further markings are illegible. The painting was sent to a New York gallery in the late 1950s as "The Brook," which may mean that the title was clearly marked on the stretcher at one time.
Chadds Ford Landscape - July 1909
Oil on canvas, 1909
Permanent Collection
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Wyeth, 1970
It is not certain that this painting was included in the Sketch Club exhibition, but its date and quality suggest it was probably number 7, Summer. Techniques used during an early 1970s restoration obscured any markings on the reverse, but the painting has a history of being called Chadds Ford Summer.
At the same moment the door behind Radcliffe crashed open and a dozen men crowded in, rifles in hand.
Oil on canvas, 1912
Collection of the Guest Family
This painting was number 23 in the Sketch Club exhibition and called The Invaders. It had been published in Everybody's Magazine (July 1912) as in illustration for Crittenden Marriott's serialized story Sally Castleton, Southerner. It was the most popular painting in the exhibition among critics writing in the Philadelphia newspapers.
I was kept busy all day in the cave, packing the minted money into bread-bags
Oil on canvas, 1911
Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library
Astor, Lennox and Tilden Foundations
This painting was No. 27 in the exhibition and called The Treasure Cave. Wyeth's paintings for Treasure Island were immensely popular wherever they were exhibited and another two, Captain Bill Bones and Old Pew, were on display at the same time in the 10th Annual Philadelphia Water Color Exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
To me he was unweariedly kind; and always glad to see me in the galley
Oil on canvas, 1911
Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection
This painting was number 28 in the exhibition, and called John Silver and Hawkins in Galley.
One last tremendous cut which would certainly have split him to the chin[e] had it not been intercepted by our big signboard of Admiral Benbow
Oil on canvas, 1911
Permanent Collection
Bequest of Ann Wyeth McCoy, 2006
This painting was number 29, Captain Bones Routs Blackdog. Of this Treasure Island illustration a critic for the Philadelphia Ledger wrote, "The spectator can all but hear the savage swish of Captain Bones' sword as he grits his teeth and whacks at Blackdog."
There fell a long silence through which O'Hara read and Kenyon kept watch at the window.
Oil on canvas, 1911
Collection of Deborah Kittredge Irving
Undoubtedly this painting was displayed at the Sketch Club as number 30, Rainy Sunday in Camp. Many of the exhibition's visitors would have recalled seeing it reproduced in the January 1912 issue of Scribner's Magazine. It illustrated a story which took place in a Canadian transcontinental railroad camp on a rainy Sunday. The frame is an example of the type used by the artist to protect the edges of the canvas during shipping.
Exhibition of Landscapes and Original Illustrations by N. C. Wyeth
November 1912
Enlargement of exhibition brochure
(Original, Brandywine River Museum Library)
This brochure lists the paintings originally intended for Wyeth's Sketch Club exhibition. (There were some late changes to the list.) The reproductions in the case depict some of the paintings not included in the present exhibition at the Brandywine River Museum.
Oil on canvas, 1912
Private Collection
Since 1957, this painting has been known as "N. C. Wyeth's House." Recent conservation treatment and examination revealed the wording "No. 12 March" on the reverse, identifying the painting as the one the artist titled March in the Sketch Club exhibition.

Resource Library editor's note

The above text was reprinted in Resource Library on April 29, 2010 with permission of the Brandywine River Museum, granted to TFAO on April 26, 2010. Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Lora Englehart of the Brandywine River Museum for her help concerning permissions for reprinting the above text.

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