N. C. Wyeth's Men of Concord
On exhibit April 15, 2016 through September 18, 2016
N. C. Wyeth’s Men of Concord will bring together for the first time in nearly eighty years the twelve original panels N. C. Wyeth painted for the book, Men of Concord and Some Others, as Portrayed in the Journal of Henry David Thoreau (1936). The exhibition, on view in the Wallace Kane Gallery, will also include charcoal drawings, watercolors, and additional artwork related to the series, including sketches created by Andrew Wyeth as illustrations for the book. Christine Podmaniczky, Curator of the N. C. Wyeth Collections and Historic Properties at the Brandywine River Museum of Art and author of the catalogue raisonné on the artist, is serving as Consulting Curator.
Drawing upon important research by Consulting Curator Christine Podmaniczky, the exhibition will also examine Wyeth’s working process for the panel paintings. For each work in the series, Wyeth began with exploratory drawings and sketches before developing a final composition in charcoal. The composition drawings were photographed, and glass lantern slides were created. Wyeth projected the slides onto large panels and developed the final painting from the projection. Some of these drawings, charcoal sketches, watercolors, and glass lantern slides will be featured in the exhibition to help visitors understand Wyeth’s artistic process.
The exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Concord Free Public Library. Concurrently, the William Munroe Special Collections of the Concord Free Public Library will feature From Thoreau’s Seasons to Men of Concord: N. C. Wyeth Inspired in the Library Art Gallery. This exhibition, opening April 15, 2016, will explore N. C. Wyeth’s fascination with Henry David Thoreau—in Wyeth’s words, “the springhead for almost every move I can make”— by tracing the evolution of the book Men of Concord from Wyeth’s initial inspiration for it in 1918 to its long-delayed but triumphant publication in 1936.
Wyeth and ThoreauNewell Convers Wyeth (1882-1945) is one of America’s foremost painters and illustrators. He enjoyed a long and celebrated career creating illustrations for magazines and books, most famously Scribner’s “Illustrated Classics” series, as well as murals and other works painted on commission or independently as an outlet for his own artistic inclinations.
While Wyeth’s success as an illustrator is widely known and well-documented, few people are aware of the artist’s longstanding appreciation and admiration of Henry David Thoreau. This fascination ultimately resulted in Men of Concord, published selections from Thoreau’s Journal for which Wyeth painted the twelve oil panels as illustrations.
Thoreau's life and writings greatly influenced and inspired Wyeth, who admired Thoreau’s genius for connecting detailed observations of nature and everyday occurrences with broad yet meaningful philosophical statements. Wyeth also felt a close kinship with Thoreau: both men were from Massachusetts, drew inspiration from the familiarity of their local landscapes, and denounced the dehumanizing impacts of materialism, commercialization, and industrialization on American life. Amazingly, his son, Andrew Wyeth, was born on July 12, Thoreau’s own birthday.
Although it is hard to imagine given his widespread popularity today, Thoreau’s reputation in the early twentieth century was largely that of an amateur naturalist. Seeking to enhance Thoreau’s status as a great American philosopher, Wyeth viewed a commission to illustrate Thoreau’s writings as an opportunity to both fulfill his own deeply felt personal and creative aspirations as well as to elevate Thoreau in the estimation of the wider public.
N. C. Wyeth first put forth the idea of illustrating Thoreau’s writings to the Boston publishing giant Houghton Mifflin in 1918. The final product was not published until 1936, under the title Men of Concord and Some Others, as Portrayed in the Journal of Henry David Thoreau. In his Journal, Thoreau often commented on the people he encountered on his daily journeys. Men of Concord is a selection of these intimate portraits chosen by editor Francis H. Allen, author of the Thoreau Bibliography and co-editor of the Walden Edition of the Complete Works. In addition to N. C. Wyeth’s twelve color illustrations, pen and ink sketches by Wyeth’s son Andrew are found throughout the book.
Men of Concord was a commercial and critical success as well as a personal and artistic triumph for N. C. Wyeth. By imbuing the paintings with the emotions Thoreau had stimulated in him, Wyeth sought to show Thoreau’s humanity—a side of the writer Wyeth felt was underrepresented in much contemporary writing about Thoreau. As Allen wrote in the book’s preface, “The reader will feel that through these pictures he himself has come almost into personal contact with Thoreau and with the men of Concord.”
More than seventy years later, Wyeth’s illustrations for Men of Concord continue to inspire because they offer an intimate, genuine portrait of the Thoreauvian world.
In Association with the Exhibition
CatalogueThe exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue that will provide a permanent record of its contents. Supported by the Wyeth Foundation for American Art, the catalogue will contain essays by Consulting Curator Christine Podmaniczky; Leslie Perrin Wilson, Curator of Special Collections at the Concord Free Public Library and organizer of its concurrent exhibition; and David Wood, Curator of the Concord Museum and author of the catalogue, An Observant Eye: The Thoreau Collection at the Concord Museum. The Concord Free Public Library will also publish a complementary catalogue based on their exhibition.
Public ProgramsThis project provides an unprecedented opportunity to explore N .C. Wyeth’s powerful affinity with Thoreau and Concord as well as his artistic methods for producing the Men of Concord series. Accordingly, the Museum and the Library are developing a rich and diverse menu of public programs to accompany the exhibitions.
Editor, storeowner, social justice activist, artist, teacher, factory worker, author, farmer, mother, philanthropist…All describe the women of Concord – some famous, some almost invisible – featured in this accompanying exhibition. Through 35 objects that women of Concord made, wore, or used in their homes and workplace, or through portraits of them – carefully preserved by succeeding generations and now by the Concord Museum – it is possible to create meaning from the lives of ordinary citizens as well as prominent residents. On view at the Concord Museum beginning May 13, 2016.
Women of Concord
N. C. Wyeth, 1936
Oil on hardboard, 38¾ x 32 inches
Brandywine River Museum of Art, Gift of Amanda K. Berls, 1980
Illustrations from Men of Concord by Henry David Thoreau; ©1936, and renewed 1964 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Photographer: Rick Echelmeyer