Wondrous Strange

HORATIO
O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
HAMLET
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Hamlet, Act I Scene V

In December of 1998 I went to an exhibit at the Delaware Art Museum called Wondrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition, which featured the works of Howard Pyle and the triumvirate of Wyeth men: N.C., Andrew and Jamie.  As noted by David Michaelis in the foreword of the companion catalogue, “The images in Wondrous Strange re-open our eyes…to the dreamlike collision of the fantastic and the real–fantastic in its Greek etymology, phantastikos, able to create and represent mental visions.”

I was drawn to a number of the paintings on offer, but to none more strongly than this one, Lighthouse, by Jamie Wyeth.

Lighthouse (1993) Oil on panel, 30 x 45 inches
Lighthouse (1993)
Oil on panel, 30 x 45 inches

My emotional reaction was immediate, which is one of the thrills of experiencing art in any of its forms: you see something, you hear something…and in an instant, you’re engaged.  What I love: the clouds and the quality of the light; the fact that you can see a smudge of sky through the middle window on the ground floor of the lighthouse; the windswept hair; the pose of expectation (or is it defiance?…it doesn’t really matter); the vivid scarlet of the military tunic, along with all of its ornamental details.  For whatever reason, when I see a painting that depicts an individual, or group of people, from behind, looking into the middle or far distance, I experience a sense of hope, and of optimism.  (I get this sense from a number of paintings by the German Romantic painter, Caspar David Friedrich, about whom I’ll no doubt blog in the future).

In another essay in the exhibition catalogue, Susan C. Larsen writes:

“[The Wyeths] have…held on to an American legacy from the previous century, an awareness of transcendental moments in the midst of everyday life. So much in twentieth-century urban America conspires against such awareness, yet it is so fundamental to American intellectual and spiritual traditions….We might well suggest to those who choose to dwell in a world without wonder, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.'”

Me, I’ll take a world with wonder every time.


Trivia tidbit: The lighthouse depicted in the painting–and in several other Andrew and Jamie Wyeth paintings–is the Tenants Harbor Lighthouse on Southern Island, Maine. Jamie Wyeth owns the building, and his studio is in the reconstructed pyramidal bell tower.
Tenants Harbor

4 comments

  • I’m so glad you are drawn to Wyeth(s) as I am. Quite a few years ago, there was a highly advertized special Wyeth exhibit at the MFA, and I was very excited to be able to attend. Some of my “elitist-leaning” friends scoffed at even the idea of such an exhibit — after all, they said, Wyeth was no more than an illustrator — not a serious painter. I suppose they likewise would have turned their noses up at exhibits of, say, Maxfield Parrish or Norman Rockwell, two of my other favorites. For me as for you, the first question is, “Does this painting draw my eye, my attention?” After all, that’s the first step in appreciation, or analysis, or any enjoyment of a piece of art!

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    • I love a lot of Maxfield Parrish’s work; my favorites are “Hill Top Farm” and “Dusk’; one year after I went to the Wyeth show in Delaware, I went to a wonderful Parrish exhibit at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia.

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  • Always love seeing pieces about the Wyeths. Portraits by NC Wyeth were prominently displayed in the Needham Public LIbrary

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    • I hadn’t realized that N.C. was born in Needham! As always, thanks for following, Marjie…

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