N.C. Wyeth's wondrous paintings of The Last of the Mohicans
, Robinson Crusoe
, and Treasure Island
have given visual form to these stories for generations of readers. Wyeth's extraordinary pictures still carry all the power they had in their heyday. And communal, millennial-bound nostalgia for the first half of the 20th century gives the paintings, if possible, an even more sentimental glow. This meticulous, encompassing study of the tempestuous, difficult, brilliant illustrator also delves into the entire clan of famous Wyeth artists, including Andrew (who was offered a bribe to delay his marriage), and Peter Hurd (who married Andrew's sister Henriette then escaped with her to New Mexico).
David Michaelis has done an extraordinary amount of research, and the book should mesmerize Wyeth fans. But he seems to doubt his own ability to make this dramatic material come alive, for he resorts to false suspense--using a baby's death and the suggestion of foul play on page 1 to hook the reader, but nearly 200 pages later allows that there's not really any evidence for his conjectures. And he liberally employs italics, giving the text an insistent tone that is at times intrusive. Nonetheless, Michaelis adroitly chronicles Wyeth's complicated, fraught relationship with his family. And he is especially perceptive in his analysis of N.C.'s stormy ties to his mentor, Howard Pyle. The artist's genteel inability to talk money, even during the Depression; his devotion to his neurotic mother; and the magical world of Chadd's Ford, where he watchfully, jealously raised his children, are all beautifully described. This is a valuable, multifaceted look at a passionate, difficult subject. In the end, Wyeth emerges, warts and all, as a complex individual, whose inner life was thoroughly entwined with every aspect of his art. --Peggy Moorman
From Publishers Weekly
The violent deaths of N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), arguably America's greatest illustrator, and his little grandson in a mysterious car accident contrasted markedly with his cozy, seemingly uneventful life, which was characterized beneath its placid surface by strong, ambivalent attachments to home and family. The son of a Massachusetts farmer and a Swiss-German immigrant, Wyeth began his professional career while studying under a giant of American picture making, Howard Pyle, and went on to become famous for his own editions of Treasure Island, The Last of the Mohicans and Robin Hood. All the while, he complained about the necessity of illustrating, which seemed to him a distraction from his true calling as a painter; from an early age, he raised his son Andrew to succeed where he had failed. Michaelis's graceful, informative but unfocused biography, which excerpts heavily from correspondence in the family archives, too often reads like a series of quotations, loosely stitched together. Absent consistent diagnoses, its repeated references to Wyeth's depressions and his mother's "nervous derangement" bog the narrative down and remain a puzzle. And although Michaelis (The Best of Friends) documents Wyeth's attempt to paint landscapes, he never addresses the question that was central to Wyeth's career: did his illustrations ever succeed as art? Michaelis identifies the source for some of Wyeth's most inspired illustrations; he even finds traits of Wyeth's difficult mother in his illustration of Treasure Island's reptilian Captain Pew. Still, the book offers too much evidence?that Wyeth was searching for a spiritual home, that Wyeth remained unfulfilled?and not enough summing up. Color and b&w plates not seen by PW.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.