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Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Brandywine River Museum Celebrates Four Decades of Collecting

“Among those misty gray hills of Chadds Ford…there is that spirit which exactly appeals to the deepest appreciation of my soul.”

— N. C. Wyeth to Sidney Chase, December 3, 1907.

Fig. 1: N. C. Wyeth (1882–1945), For all the world, I was led like a dancing bear, 1911 Oil on canvas, 47-1/4 x 38-1/4 inches Illustration for Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911) Collection of the Brandywine River Museum, Bequest of Gertrude Haskell Britton, 1992.
Fig. 1: N. C. Wyeth (1882–1945)
For all the world, I was led like a dancing bear, 1911
Oil on canvas, 47-1/4 x 38-1/4 inches
Illustration for Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1911)
Collection of the Brandywine River Museum, Bequest of Gertrude Haskell Britton, 1992

The Brandywine River Museum Celebrates Four Decades of Collecting by Virginia H. O'Hara
by Virginia H. O’Hara

Fig. 2: Andrew Wyeth (1917–2009) Siri, 1970 Tempera on panel, 30 x 30-1/2 inches Collection of Brandywine River Museum, purchased for the museum by John T. Dorrance, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Felix du Pont, Mr. and Mrs. James P. Mills, Mr. and Mrs. Bayard Sharp, two anonymous donors, and The Pew Memorial Trust, 1975.
Fig. 2: Andrew Wyeth (1917–2009)
Siri, 1970
Tempera on panel, 30 x 30-1/2 inches
Collection of Brandywine River Museum, purchased for the museum by John T. Dorrance, Jr., Mr. and Mrs. Felix du Pont, Mr. and Mrs. James P. Mills, Mr. and Mrs. Bayard Sharp, two anonymous donors, and The Pew Memorial Trust, 1975.

For over two hundred years the Brandywine Valley region has attracted artists, including James Brade Sword, Jasper Cropsey, William T. Richards, Herman Herzog, George Cope, Edward Moran, and many others. The still extant Turner’s Mill in Chadds Ford was the location for the summer school of famed illustrator and teacher Howard Pyle. N. C. Wyeth was inspired by Pyle to settle in Chadds Ford, where he raised his remarkably talented family, and where his artist son Andrew and grandson Jamie Wyeth have also lived.

For forty years the Brandywine River Museum has fulfilled its mission to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret artistic and historical objects related to the Brandywine region, including the art of the Wyeth family, American illustration, landscape, and still life painting.

When the museum opened its doors in the former Hoffman’s grist mill in June of 1971, the collection numbered barely fifty works. Early exhibitions depended heavily on loans from private collections and were among the first historical presentations of the work of illustrators, such as N. C. Wyeth (Fig. 1), and other artists of the Brandywine Valley. Today the collection numbers nearly four thousand works of art and the museum owns N. C. Wyeth’s house and studio, which he built in 1911, as well as the historic Kuerner farm, the subject of many hundreds of paintings and drawings by Andrew Wyeth (Fig. 2). While art by three generations of the Wyeth family (Fig. 3) is key to the museum’s success in bringing the region’s art to national attention, hundreds of exhibitions have led to increased recognition of the importance of the region’s complex art history. Although a mid-size institution with a comparatively modest budget, the significance and comprehensiveness of the museum’s collections and programs have won it national and international recognition over its four decades.

The museum is celebrating its fortieth anniversary with a series of special exhibitions beginning with N. C. Wyeth’s Treasure Island, Classic Illustrations for a Classic Tale, through November 20, 2011. This exhibition brings together for the first time sixteen of N. C. Wyeth’s (1882–1945) original seventeen oil paintings on the 100th anniversary of their publication for Scribner’s 1911 edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel. The majority of these are from the museum’s collection and the collection of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, with loans from the New Britain Museum of American Art, the New York Public Library, and elsewhere. The artist painted these images while living with his young family in a rented farmhouse near the museum. After the Scribner’s commission, Wyeth was able to purchase property and settle on “Rocky Hill” located southeast of the village of Chadds Ford.

Wyeth’s thrilling renderings of Stevenson’s tale have excited generations of readers and influenced other illustrators, theater and film directors and, more recently, digital application designers. The exhibition offers examples of Wyeth-influenced productions: photographs of a 1915 New York stage play, stills from a 1934 film adaptation starring Victor Fleming and Lionel Barrymore, and a sample of an iPad version of the story based on Wyeth’s images.

Fig. 3: Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946) Draft Age, 1965 Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches Collection of the Brandywine River Museum, Purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Randy L. Christofferson, Mr. and Mrs. George Strawbridge, Jr., Mary Alice Dorrance Malone Foundation, Margaret Dorrance Strawbridge Foundation of PA I, Inc., The William Stamps Farish Fund, Mr. and Mrs. James W. Stewart, III, and MBNA America, 1999. Fig. 4: Howard Pyle (1853–1911) They Stood Staring at the Violent Sky, 1905 Illustration for Mrs. Henry Dudenay, “An Amazing Belief,” Harper’s New Monthly, April 1905 Oil on canvas, 24 x 16-1/4 inches Collection of Brandywine River Museum.
Fig. 3: Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946)
Draft Age, 1965
Oil on canvas, 36 x 30 inches
Collection of the Brandywine River Museum, Purchase made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Randy L. Christofferson, Mr. and Mrs. George Strawbridge, Jr., Mary Alice Dorrance Malone Foundation, Margaret Dorrance Strawbridge Foundation of PA I, Inc., The William Stamps Farish Fund, Mr. and Mrs. James W. Stewart, III, and MBNA America, 1999.

Fig. 4: Howard Pyle (1853–1911)
They Stood Staring at the Violent Sky, 1905
Illustration for Mrs. Henry Dudenay, “An Amazing Belief,” Harper’s New Monthly, April 1905
Oil on canvas, 24 x 16-1/4 inches
Collection of Brandywine River Museum

Honoring Howard Pyle: Major Works from the Collections, through November 17, presents works that span Howard Pyle’s (1853–1911) career and reveal his mastery in creating vivid paintings and decorative drawings of pirate stories, Arthurian legends, fairy tales, American historical events, and allegorical figures. One of the most influential illustrators of his time, whose work continues to inspire and invigorate illustrators today, Pyle was renowned for his historical accuracy and ability to instill great drama in his images (Fig. 4). Pyle’s work has been a major presence in the collection since the early days of the museum because of important donations by the Wyeth and Pyle family members and others, and through purchases of his work. In 2007, Howard Pyle Brokaw, a grandson of the artist, donated over one hundred works to the museum, making the museum a major repository for the artist’s work.

Opening concurrently is Inspiring Minds: Howard Pyle as Teacher, an exhibition that examines Pyle’s teaching methods that honed the skills of Jessie Willcox Smith, Thornton Oakley, Frank Schoonover, N. C Wyeth, and many others. Pyle developed the first training program for his profession and was a superlative teacher. He taught at Drexel Institute of Art, Science, and Industry in Philadelphia, and opened the Howard Pyle School of Art in Wilmington, Delaware. Between 1898 and 1903 he conducted five summer classes in Chadds Ford. His inspiring lessons and persona became legend among a new generation of illustrators and teachers.

Fig. 5: Edward Redfield (1869–1965) Winter Reflections, 1935 Oil on canvas; 32 x 40-3/8 inches Gift of Carolyn Elkins Foster (2005) Collection of the Brandywine River Museum Gift of Carolyn Elkins Foster (2005).
Fig. 5: Edward Redfield (1869–1965)
Winter Reflections, 1935
Oil on canvas; 32 x 40-3/8 inches
Gift of Carolyn Elkins Foster (2005)
Collection of the Brandywine River Museum Gift of Carolyn Elkins Foster (2005)

Masterpieces by Andrew Wyeth from the Collections, through January 29, 2012, brings together the museum’s collection of works created over the artist’s seventy-five-year career. Andrew Wyeth’s (1917–2009) works record his deep experience with the land and people of Chadds Ford and coastal Maine, where he also resided. Early gifts of art by him include the iconic Roasted Chestnuts (1956) and Raccoon (1958). In 1975, several donors facilitated the purchase of Wyeth’s famous paintings of Siri Erikson. Other works include major paintings of Chadds Ford farmers Adam Johnson and Karl Kuerner. A selection of rarely seen studies in pencil and watercolor for some of these paintings, lent by the Andrew and Betsy Wyeth Collection, demonstrate the artist’s close observation of form and his exploration of color and mood.

Celebrating Four Decades of Collecting, through November 20, features works by Jamie Wyeth (b. 1946), the third generation of Wyeth painters and an artist whose works have been displayed since the museum’s opening. Included are his insightful portraits of animals, such as Portrait of Pig (1970), and people, including Draft Age (1965). Landscapes from Maine and Pennsylvania figure prominently, as do portraits of Andy Warhol and a series of major drawings and paintings of the artist’s friend, the dancer Rudolf Nureyev. Works on view by other members of the Wyeth family—Henriette Wyeth, Carolyn Wyeth, Peter Hurd, and John McCoy—reveal each artist’s unique interpretation of nature and the things and people they know well.

Fig. 6: William Trost Richards (1833–1905) The Valley of the Brandywine, Chester County (September), 1886-87 Oil on canvas, 39-3/4 x 55-1/8 inches Collection of the Brandywine River Museum.
Fig. 6: William Trost Richards (1833–1905)
The Valley of the Brandywine, Chester County (September), 1886-87
Oil on canvas, 39-3/4 x 55-1/8 inches
Collection of the Brandywine River Museum

Among the work in the permanent collection galleries also on view during this anniversary year will be a selection of landscapes. The museum’s landscape collection, represented early in its history by painters of the region such as Thomas Doughty, Edward Moran, James Brade Sword, George Cope, and Herman Herzog, now includes works by Asher Durand, Thomas Birch, Bass Otis, Thomas Moran, Jasper Cropsey, William Langsdon Lathrop, Edward Redfield (Fig. 5), Walter Elmer Scofield, Daniel Garber, William Stanley Haseltine, Thomas Anschutz, and many others. The museum is particularly rich in works by William T. Richards (Fig. 6) who lived for some years on a farm in the Brandywine Valley and painted the surrounding countryside.

Fig. 9: Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966) The Artist, 1909 Oil on paper, 19-3/4 x 16 inches Cover for Collier’s May 1, 1909 Collection of Brandywine River Museum Gift of Mrs. Andrew Wyeth, 1980.
Fig. 9: Maxfield Parrish (1870–1966)
The Artist, 1909
Oil on paper, 19-3/4 x 16 inches
Cover for Collier’s May 1, 1909
Collection of Brandywine River Museum
Gift of Mrs. Andrew Wyeth, 1980

While the museum’s collections of genre and portrait paintings are more modest, they include fine examples by Wilmington, Delaware, artist Jefferson David Chalfant, famous for his trompe l’oeil paintings and other works. Chalfant posed local residents in thematic tableaus in his studio, and created drawing and photographic studies for his final works. Genre paintings depicting imagined scenes from earlier times, include William Tylee Ranney’s The Tory Escort (1857), which portrays tensions between British Loyalists and American patriots during the Revolution; West Chester, Pennsylvania, artist Horace Pippin’s Saying Prayers (1943) (Fig. 7) renders a tender scene of a family ritual. Among the museum’s portraits are works by Gilbert Stuart, Benjamin West, Thomas Sully, Julian Story, and Henry Inman of the prominent Hare family of Philadelphia. Other portraits include that of Daniel Webster by Philadelphia painter Bass Otis; Baron Von Steuben by Ralph Earl; Mary du Pont by J. D. Chalfant; and a pastel rendering of a young girl by Mary Cassatt.

In 1980, Amanda K. Berls and Ruth A. Yerion donated more than forty works from their important collection of American art. The gift included several works by Wyeth family members and an important group of still life and trompe l’oeil paintings, including works by William Michael Harnett, John Peto, and John Haberle (Fig. 8), which launched the museum’s greater focus on the acquisition, study, and exhibition of still life work. More recently, following an exhibition of contemporary artists working in the trompe l’oeil tradition, the museum has added additional works of such art thanks to several generous donors.

Fig. 8: John Haberle (1856–1933) Torn in Transit, 1890-95 Oil on canvas, 13-1/2 x 17 inches Collection of Brandywine River Museum, Gift of Amanda K. Berls, 1980.
Fig. 8: John Haberle (1856–1933)
Torn in Transit, 1890-95
Oil on canvas, 13-1/2 x 17 inches
Collection of Brandywine River Museum, Gift of Amanda K. Berls, 1980

In 1982, Jane Collette Wilcox donated over three hundred works by a great many important American illustrators, transforming the museum’s illustration collection into one of the most important in the country. That donation and subsequent ones have made the collection rich in distinctively American examples from the late nineteenth century to the early twenty-first century, including examples of the work of the country’s earliest and best illustrations, such as F.O.C. Darley and Thomas Nast, and Maxfield Parrish (Fig. 9), as well as the work of such top women cartoonist of their day as Rose O’Neill (Fig. 10) and Mary Petty, down to contemporary illustrators such as Charles Santore, Jerry Pinkney (Fig. 11), and Barry Moser. The illustration collection is now a rich resource for America’s culture and aesthetic development.

The museum’s success is measured by the nearly six million visitors to date who have experienced its art and participated in its programs and in the growth of the collections. The future promises steady growth, increased knowledge, and engagement with the collection by still broader audiences. And that is something to celebrate.

Fig. 7: Horace Pippin (1888–1946) Saying Prayers, 1943 Oil on canvas, 16 x 20-1/8 inches Collection of Brandywine River Museum, Museum Purchase, 1980, The Betsy James Wyeth Fund.
Fig. 7: Horace Pippin (1888–1946)
Saying Prayers, 1943
Oil on canvas, 16 x 20-1/8 inches
Collection of Brandywine River Museum, Museum Purchase, 1980, The Betsy James Wyeth Fund.


For information about the Brandywine River Museum, its collections, and exhibitions, call 610.388.2700 or visit www.brandywinemuseum.org.


Virginia H. O’Hara is curator of collections at Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

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