American Populists: Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell

Andrew Wyeth, Benny’s Scarecrow

The painter Andrew Wyeth died last Friday. In a way, he was a most unpopular populist. As the New York Times describes here, his main value to most art historians was that he provided an alternative to Modernism in the 1940s and 50s. Not quite high praise. The American public, the part that didn’t go in for Modernism, tended to be much fonder of Wyeth’s realistic images.

His form of realism seems to be what endears him to the common man, placing him in the class of Americana with Norman Rockwell. A spiritual opposite of Norman Rockwell, however, his negativity and earthiness depict another side of America’s identity. His subject matter is rural and humble; his style accessible, that is to say, it looks like real objects. His excellently composed scenes have an almost magical realism, but ultimately, I find them a little dull.

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s Field

His most famous painting, above, is of a woman in his community who was crippled and pulled herself through fields rather than use a wheelchair. Wyeth admired her independence and determination. In this and much of his work, he overlays the American landscape with foreboding atmosphere and Puritanical ethos. Whereas Wyeth seems like the last of the Puritans, Rockwell’s work shows a New American optimism.

Norman Rockwell, The Roadblock

Is it fair to say Wyeth represents an older, Puritan ethos and Rockwell represents the exuberant America coming out of WWII?

Who is more American?

2 thoughts on “American Populists: Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell

  1. Norman Rockwell. He may not be high art, but then America isn’t exactly a nation of high art, is it? He represents the country just as it was.

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