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N. C. Wyeth: A Biography

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His name summons up our earliest images of the beloved books we read as children. His illustrations for Scribner's Illustrated Classics (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans, The Yearling) are etched into the collective memory of generations of readers. He was hailed as the greatest American illustrator of his day. For forty-three years, starting in 1902, N His name summons up our earliest images of the beloved books we read as children. His illustrations for Scribner's Illustrated Classics (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans, The Yearling) are etched into the collective memory of generations of readers. He was hailed as the greatest American illustrator of his day. For forty-three years, starting in 1902, N.C. Wyeth painted landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and murals, as well as illustrations for a long shelf of world literature. Yet despite worldwide acclaim, he judged himself a failure, believing that illustration was of no importance. David Michaelis tells the story of Wyeth's family through four generations -- a saga that begins and ends with tragedy -- and brings to life the huge-spirited, deeply complicated man, and an America that was quickly vanishing.


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His name summons up our earliest images of the beloved books we read as children. His illustrations for Scribner's Illustrated Classics (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans, The Yearling) are etched into the collective memory of generations of readers. He was hailed as the greatest American illustrator of his day. For forty-three years, starting in 1902, N His name summons up our earliest images of the beloved books we read as children. His illustrations for Scribner's Illustrated Classics (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Last of the Mohicans, The Yearling) are etched into the collective memory of generations of readers. He was hailed as the greatest American illustrator of his day. For forty-three years, starting in 1902, N.C. Wyeth painted landscapes, still lifes, portraits, and murals, as well as illustrations for a long shelf of world literature. Yet despite worldwide acclaim, he judged himself a failure, believing that illustration was of no importance. David Michaelis tells the story of Wyeth's family through four generations -- a saga that begins and ends with tragedy -- and brings to life the huge-spirited, deeply complicated man, and an America that was quickly vanishing.

30 review for N. C. Wyeth: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I started this book because I knew Andrew Wyeth was homeschooled and studied art in his father's studio. N. C. Wyeth, so I heard, was a larger than life character who was completely involved with his children, so I decided to read this huge tome on his life (and much of the lives of many others in the family). What a great decision on my part - I was completely enthralled with N.C. He was by no means perfect, but I believe he was a genius, who, unfortunately, was at war with himself all his life I started this book because I knew Andrew Wyeth was homeschooled and studied art in his father's studio. N. C. Wyeth, so I heard, was a larger than life character who was completely involved with his children, so I decided to read this huge tome on his life (and much of the lives of many others in the family). What a great decision on my part - I was completely enthralled with N.C. He was by no means perfect, but I believe he was a genius, who, unfortunately, was at war with himself all his life, thinking that his chosen profession, of illustrator, was beneath his ideal profession of a painter of fine art, which he continued to strive to be. Reading about the Wyeth family - a family with many secrets, but were nonetheless incredibly involved with each other's lives, was fascinating, and so well written it flowed like a novel. I can't recommend this book highly enough; it is one of the best biographies I have ever read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas Martens

    An intimate and thorough biography of the 20th Century’s greatest illustrator. It details Wyeth’s constant disavowal of his own work as he tried again and again to move beyond illustration and gain a foothold in the larger art world as a serious painter. Although Wyeth was his own harshest critic, Michaelis never fails to promote Wyeth’s oeuvre as the work of a superior craftsman who made indelible contributions to the worlds of art, illustration, and publishing. Michaelis is also explicit about An intimate and thorough biography of the 20th Century’s greatest illustrator. It details Wyeth’s constant disavowal of his own work as he tried again and again to move beyond illustration and gain a foothold in the larger art world as a serious painter. Although Wyeth was his own harshest critic, Michaelis never fails to promote Wyeth’s oeuvre as the work of a superior craftsman who made indelible contributions to the worlds of art, illustration, and publishing. Michaelis is also explicit about the advances that Wyeth made over his predecessors, helping to explain why his work continues to resonate today. Thanks to Wyeth’s prolific correspondence, the reader shares practically every thought, every feeling that he had over the span of a half-century, tracking his professional legacy as it progressed from one overshadowing bookend to another: from being “student of Howard Pyle’s” to being “the father to Andrew Wyeth” (fans of either will also find this biography rewarding). But Wyeth’s mother is the figure who looms largest in his life, the key to understanding his personality, his family life, his values, his quirks; Michaelis expertly traces the influence of her and Wyeth’s codependence on one another through not only their own lives, but the lives everyone around them. The book includes a decent number of color plates, and the selection presents a good retrospective of his work. Fans of his “Wyeth Editions” – his illustrated works of classic literature – will finish this biography hungry to track down and devour as many volumes as they can get their hands on.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mercedes Rochelle

    A year ago, I went to the Brandywine River Museum of Art to learn more about Andrew Wyeth, and instead I discovered his father. In many ways it was a revelation to me. I had never realized that early 20th century illustrations started with full-sized paintings. Glorious paintings. So I was very pleased to discover this book; it brought me even closer to N.C. Wyeth and his world. I think I was a little too young to have appreciated his enormous output for Scribner’s Illustrated Classics, and at t A year ago, I went to the Brandywine River Museum of Art to learn more about Andrew Wyeth, and instead I discovered his father. In many ways it was a revelation to me. I had never realized that early 20th century illustrations started with full-sized paintings. Glorious paintings. So I was very pleased to discover this book; it brought me even closer to N.C. Wyeth and his world. I think I was a little too young to have appreciated his enormous output for Scribner’s Illustrated Classics, and at the same time his art feels familiar to me. Newell Convers Wyeth certainly fit the bill for the tortured, anguished artist. The poor man spent his whole life chasing the ultimate, “real” art that eluded him. No matter how famous, how sought after he became, N.C. always felt that his craft was not good enough, not sublime enough to qualify as art. At the same time, he was constantly frustrated by a wish to reclaim the comfort, the serenity of his childhood home—which probably never existed. He even dragged his family back and forth between Delaware and Massachusetts in an effort to recapture something he felt he had lost. His overbearing mother couldn’t let go of him, and their decades-long correspondence betrayed an unhealthy (at least to an outsider) co-dependence that seems to have affected his daily life. He relied heavily upon her approval, and when she withheld it, he was devastated. Nonetheless, he was eventually able to assert himself and take a wife, and the family they raised produced many talented children; Andrew was the youngest, and of course the most famous. N.C. proved to be a doting father, and he personally took on the artistic education of his children. What an example he must have shown! The author must have buried himself in mountains of correspondence to piece together this biography. He did a good job depicting all sides of this complicated man, leaving me wanting more, even after 400 plus pages. I found this book very readable, and I wish I would have had the opportunity to meet this fascinating man.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    N.C. Wyeth referred to his daughter Carolyn as “The Big Noise.” The same could be said of him. Magnanimous and self-absorbed, gregarious and insular, he dominated every person he met with his gargantuan talent and emotional neediness. This biography—one of the best I’ve read—offers a meticulous look at his family of origin, his relationship with Howard Pyle, and the painting dynasty he spawned, each colored by undiagnosed mental illness, untimely death, and nostalgia—a feeling that “memory and t N.C. Wyeth referred to his daughter Carolyn as “The Big Noise.” The same could be said of him. Magnanimous and self-absorbed, gregarious and insular, he dominated every person he met with his gargantuan talent and emotional neediness. This biography—one of the best I’ve read—offers a meticulous look at his family of origin, his relationship with Howard Pyle, and the painting dynasty he spawned, each colored by undiagnosed mental illness, untimely death, and nostalgia—a feeling that “memory and the past were more real and viable than the present.” The tight psychological weave of the book is impressive; the author carefully traces N.C.’s symbiotic relationship with his mother back to her own mother’s nostalgia for her home in Switzerland. By the time Andrew, the son, is establishing himself as a painter, we can understand how his secretive nature must have helped to offset the strain of having a father who was both mentor and intruder. Another strength is the author’s analysis of N.C.’s illustrative techniques. His description of the allure of the Treasure Island paintings recalls Hitchcock: “We are free to look in on terrible happenings, unnoticed by the objects of our gaze. We are given the erotic power of omnipotent invisibility.” The book never tells us why N.C. turned to drawing—what created the compulsion and to whom we could trace that gene. But it fully explains how the “wondrous strange” tradition that is Wyeth came to be.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Canoeist

    A fascinating book about a remarkable man. fuller review TK

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Amor

    N.C. Wyeth——-As a boy reading my paperback copy of Treasure Island I drilled my imagination into the 1911 illustrations of N.C. Wyeth the colorful pirates and those of that hero-boy. So last month I watched a YouTube video of an old Smithsonian documentary of NC which motivated me to buy his biography. Tonight after reading 430 pages I RE-watched that bio-pic Youtube with so much greater appreciation ——I had a deeper knowledge that even brought tears to my eyes recalling what I’d just read so mu N.C. Wyeth——-As a boy reading my paperback copy of Treasure Island I drilled my imagination into the 1911 illustrations of N.C. Wyeth the colorful pirates and those of that hero-boy. So last month I watched a YouTube video of an old Smithsonian documentary of NC which motivated me to buy his biography. Tonight after reading 430 pages I RE-watched that bio-pic Youtube with so much greater appreciation ——I had a deeper knowledge that even brought tears to my eyes recalling what I’d just read so much so that I realized now more closely that I DO know that man that illustrator —-who yearned to be an artist- which despite his self-doubts had truly become an artist-painter. Lesson learned: may I (and you also likewise be) read read read and fly beyond what a mere film can so briefly convey on cellulose or digital video. Books today can and do still yield a bountiful crop of wisdom and insight when one but tills the soil between the literary book covers to eventually discover a deeper joy and connection than any 30-60-90 minute show can ever muster. Films (YouTube) may momentarily entertain the eye and ear but books in hand continue to delight the soul!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Laurie

    Fascinating. Read this book with Google Search Images open -- I found myself frequently looking up images not only by N.C. Wyeth, but also by Howard Pyle, Henriette Wyeth, Peter Hurd, and of course, Andrew Wyeth. Interesting: "Comparing Henriette with Andy, N.C had predicted as recently as 1927 that while Henriette would become the family's great painter, Andy, then ten, would 'probably end up as a farmer.'" - pg 316 Wyeth would state publically that "the unfolding of all the younger members of th Fascinating. Read this book with Google Search Images open -- I found myself frequently looking up images not only by N.C. Wyeth, but also by Howard Pyle, Henriette Wyeth, Peter Hurd, and of course, Andrew Wyeth. Interesting: "Comparing Henriette with Andy, N.C had predicted as recently as 1927 that while Henriette would become the family's great painter, Andy, then ten, would 'probably end up as a farmer.'" - pg 316 Wyeth would state publically that "the unfolding of all the younger members of the family is a glorious episode of my life." Privately, though, he acknowledged that "as a group the family 'have got something and that there is a real promise of sound achievement -- of MAJOR achievement in the offing,'" but worried that he had not yet arrived, as he still hoped to paint a "big work" and prove himself "as a painter of something other than illustrations." - pg 354

  8. 5 out of 5

    Joe Stinnett

    Great, powerful book. Never read a biography this good. Great illustrations of course. Also story of his family.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie H.

    Wow, this is a page-turner. NC Wyeth wasn't fully respected as an artist but as a mere "illustrator". I'm no expert but I saw his original illustrations for Last of the Mohicans, Robin Hood, The Boys' King Arthur, Kidnapped and many others and they were radiantly beautiful--luminous. N.C. oversaw a dynasty of Wyeth painters, he lived through untimely death, a particularly wrenching affair and a life lived in a moody New England landscape. This book has it all. It's a terrific, lengthy read. I wa Wow, this is a page-turner. NC Wyeth wasn't fully respected as an artist but as a mere "illustrator". I'm no expert but I saw his original illustrations for Last of the Mohicans, Robin Hood, The Boys' King Arthur, Kidnapped and many others and they were radiantly beautiful--luminous. N.C. oversaw a dynasty of Wyeth painters, he lived through untimely death, a particularly wrenching affair and a life lived in a moody New England landscape. This book has it all. It's a terrific, lengthy read. I was haunted, depressed and satiated when I closed the back cover.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Dustin

    Good book. Took me a while to finish - I checked it out from the library a million times through school. It was almost exhausting to read about NC's relationship with his mother that he kept up through written correspondence. The author did a pretty good job keeping my interest by talking about art related things. The ending was pretty sad, (if you don't know his story I won't spoil it) but worth the wait to see how NC's relationship developed with his children and their families. Against the ma Good book. Took me a while to finish - I checked it out from the library a million times through school. It was almost exhausting to read about NC's relationship with his mother that he kept up through written correspondence. The author did a pretty good job keeping my interest by talking about art related things. The ending was pretty sad, (if you don't know his story I won't spoil it) but worth the wait to see how NC's relationship developed with his children and their families. Against the majority I am a bigger NC than Andrew or Jamie fan.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

    One of my favorite illustrators, whom drew illustrations of Treasure Island and other classics. Tells of his childhood years to his tragic death at an old age. If you want to know more, read this book!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Patrice

    This is fascinating--N.C. Wyeth's longing to feel he was a true artist and not just an illustrator. And what is art in the early industrial United States? And what a family! I had no idea... This is fascinating--N.C. Wyeth's longing to feel he was a true artist and not just an illustrator. And what is art in the early industrial United States? And what a family! I had no idea...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    It's a very in depth look at the Wyeth family and N.C. in particular. Probably more than you want to know about them, but interesting none the less. The author has done his homework. It's a very in depth look at the Wyeth family and N.C. in particular. Probably more than you want to know about them, but interesting none the less. The author has done his homework.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    Such a compelling read. Fascinating family story.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chad

    If I could come back and pick a family besides my own to belong, it would be the wyeths

  16. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    Excellent well written biography of N.C. Wyeth, the great American classics illustrator; father of iconic painter Andrew Wyeth, and grandfather of painter Jamie Wyeth. N.C. never gave up the idea that illustration was inferior to regular painting (characteristic attitude of the time), and endeavored all his life to produce a painting that he and the critics valued. The influence of his mother impacts all his female relationships, not always in a good way. The second half of the book which expand Excellent well written biography of N.C. Wyeth, the great American classics illustrator; father of iconic painter Andrew Wyeth, and grandfather of painter Jamie Wyeth. N.C. never gave up the idea that illustration was inferior to regular painting (characteristic attitude of the time), and endeavored all his life to produce a painting that he and the critics valued. The influence of his mother impacts all his female relationships, not always in a good way. The second half of the book which expands on his family members is fascinating. His tragic death was painful to read about. I have had this book setting on my bookshelf for years and finally got to it. Well worth the wait.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Julia Hendon

    A thorough, readable biography that captures the contradictions at the heart of N. C. Wyeth’s life. Wyeth became famous for his vivid illustrations for magazines and books, most notably Treasure Island and other classic tales. But he despised being an illustrator. He wanted to be a true artist (as he defined the term). Nothing he did ever satisfied him. His family was central to him and yet his loving domination left his children constantly seeking his approval to the detriment of their own care A thorough, readable biography that captures the contradictions at the heart of N. C. Wyeth’s life. Wyeth became famous for his vivid illustrations for magazines and books, most notably Treasure Island and other classic tales. But he despised being an illustrator. He wanted to be a true artist (as he defined the term). Nothing he did ever satisfied him. His family was central to him and yet his loving domination left his children constantly seeking his approval to the detriment of their own careers and families.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ericka

    One of the best biographies I’ve read... I’m a longtime lover of the Wyeth family’s art, having spent a lot of time in the area in Maine dear to them, but was interested in learning more about their lives, not just their art. NC was such a talented genius; and such a huge figure within his family. This book was meticulously researched and very well written. Highly recommend

  19. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Wood

    This is the best biography I have read to date. The level of detail the author goes into about relationships within and outside of the Wyeth family is impeccable, and it evokes strong empathy for NC Wyeth, Carol and their clan.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Renee Picard

    Very nicely done! Would make a great limited tv series! An interesting story, family, and wealth of creativity to explore. Plus, those pictures! Those paintings! Those illustrations! Everyone should see them.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lori Lynn

    One of the best books I've read in a long time. I didn't want it to end. One of the best books I've read in a long time. I didn't want it to end.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Eckhaus

    Family background for about 35 pages, finally some indication of his artistic bent. Howard Pyle's miraculous entrance into and enormous influence on Wyeth's life/career handled with feeling. Disappointment sets in with development of Pyle relationship. Surfeit of information on family matters and not enough behind W's growth as an artist. Surprising personality change as attitude towards his art and career sinks in and hardens. Miraculous turnaround as Wyeth accepts the commission for and delivers hi Family background for about 35 pages, finally some indication of his artistic bent. Howard Pyle's miraculous entrance into and enormous influence on Wyeth's life/career handled with feeling. Disappointment sets in with development of Pyle relationship. Surfeit of information on family matters and not enough behind W's growth as an artist. Surprising personality change as attitude towards his art and career sinks in and hardens. Miraculous turnaround as Wyeth accepts the commission for and delivers his Treasure Island masterwork. Finally some analysis of specific pieces and the project tieing in and thereby justifying all the attention to his family situations. Pontificating again on the painting/picture duality while he works on Kidnapped after the enormous success of Treasure Island. Was unaware of his status generating offers to sign up for WWI service Really engaging and astonishingly realistic self-portrait. Background on teaching and fatherhood, both positive. Children grew up drawing and achieved their measure of success. Home sounds like a loving stronghold for artists. Exciting breakthrough and achievements for son Andrew at the expense of coverage of NC's later works (more plates would have been welcome.) Health problems creep in and the colony fragments. Had to laugh at Betsy James' and nonperceptively arrogant what-has-he-done-lately remark! New object of affection/comfort late in life. Overwhelmed with sadness after reading the concluding chapters. Staggered by the effort that went into this work, going by the notes and acknowledgements.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    A slow start but ultimately engrossing. The author was trying too hard on the first few pages to start pointing out all the family links, coincidences and patterns. But that is the Wyeth family: engrossing and riddled with repeating patterns of thought, behavior and talent. Though the focus of the book is patriarch Newell Convers Wyeth, it is a multi-generational saga where nothing is ever what it seems. N.C.'s illustrations are American classics just as his son's paintings are. They are also ri A slow start but ultimately engrossing. The author was trying too hard on the first few pages to start pointing out all the family links, coincidences and patterns. But that is the Wyeth family: engrossing and riddled with repeating patterns of thought, behavior and talent. Though the focus of the book is patriarch Newell Convers Wyeth, it is a multi-generational saga where nothing is ever what it seems. N.C.'s illustrations are American classics just as his son's paintings are. They are also rife with personal symbolism and the working through of conflicted relationships and so have a very different meaning to the artist and the viewer. This book a big rambling tome with the last 100+ pages are famiy tree, notes and index. But I have to say that Richard Merryman has written the definitive biography of Andrew Wyeth (as well as a version for young people). And having read both of them as well, Merryman is the man to read. Or perhaps, having read Merryman, there were few surprises or insights left to discover which makes Michaelis' book seem like the lesser work.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Carol Merrill

    I absolutely love NC Wyeths work. I feel fortunate that the Portland Museum of Art holds a good collection. The story of his life is interesting. His mother was a huge influence on him and she was a tortured soul. I enjoyed this book and was saddened by the unfortunate event that resulted in his death.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Loved this book, won't soon forget it. Slow moving with all of the Victorian-era letters back and forth doing much of the storytelling, but that's how it was then. Really painted the portrait of who N.C. was and why, and his admiration of the immense talent of his son Andrew. Wild ending I knew nothing about until reading the book. Loved this book, won't soon forget it. Slow moving with all of the Victorian-era letters back and forth doing much of the storytelling, but that's how it was then. Really painted the portrait of who N.C. was and why, and his admiration of the immense talent of his son Andrew. Wild ending I knew nothing about until reading the book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Heather Andersen

    Biography about the neurotic, insecure life of N.C. Wyeth, including lots of detail about his creepy relationship with his mother. It gave me more of an appreciation for his art, and also an interest in seeing more of it, plus the work of Howard Pyle and Andrew Wyeth.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    The main takeaway: famous artist is insecure.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    He's probably my favorite painter, and this is a very good bio of his life. Very interesting to read his letters and the old-fashioned formality of his speech, even to his wife. He's probably my favorite painter, and this is a very good bio of his life. Very interesting to read his letters and the old-fashioned formality of his speech, even to his wife.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bonnie

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