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Hidden art treasure to go on show

A striking Bermuda watercolour by the lauded American artist Andrew Wyeth, who appears to have forgotten that he had painted it, is soon to go on display at a museum in the United States.

“On the arts scale of things, this is as big as it gets,” said Tom Butterfield, founder of the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art.

Mr Butterfield corresponded with Wyeth but learnt of only three paintings made during the artist's time in Bermuda.

“We're absolutely thrilled to know that a fourth exists,” he said.

“It adds to the notion that other Bermuda treasures of this magnitude are yet to be found. That's the optimist in me, but I do not believe that we are at the end.”

Near Wreck House, from 1950, spent most of its existence in a private collection and was only recently donated to the Delaware Art Museum.

It shows a figure walking up the lane outside the Sandys estate and, in typical Wyeth style, it is a far cry from another pastel Bermudian pastoral.

“He has taken something mundane and turned it into something that makes you see it for the first time, which is why great artists are great,” Mr Butterfield said.

Wyeth and his wife stayed at the West End estate, the home of their friends Mr and Mrs Crawford Greenewalt, in the early 1950s, along with the painter John McCoy and his wife Ann Wyeth McCoy, Wyeth's sister.

The piece was quietly obtained by the Delaware museum and Mr Butterfield only chanced to learn of its existence through his contact with the Wyeth Foundation.

It had gone largely unnoticed by the art world while it remained in the collection of the Daley family.

“It's been very exciting for us — we're here in Wyeth country and have quite a bit of his work in our collection, but we didn't have a Bermuda one,” said Heather Campbell Coyle, curator of American Art at the Delaware Art Museum.

Located in Wilmington, the museum is close to Chadds Ford, Wyeth's hometown where he died in 2009.

“It's certainly absolutely typical of his watercolour paintings in that period. He was a very deft watercolourist. It looks almost easy. I love how dark the dark elements are.”

The figure in the lane is almost black, she noted, and the dark rendering of a palm tree leaning over the wall carries a vague menace.

“In my favourite Wyeth paintings, there's always this psychological charge, some sort of uncomfortable sense to it,” she said.

The Delaware Art Museum had borrowed the painting from the Daleys before, but acquired it in 2013.

Although excellently preserved — often watercolours can end up faded in private collections, Ms Campbell Coyle noted — Near Wreck House has been undergoing evaluation and treatment, and should go on the museum's walls soon.

It is hoped that the picture can be loaned to Masterworks — Mr Butterfield wants to include it in next year's “Up Country, Down Country” exhibit.

Ms Campbell Coyle was intrigued by the notion of the painting slipping off the radar of the arts world. Wyeth is a famed name, with works in major museums around the globe.

“I was surprised to hear that,” she said of Wyeth apparently having forgotten his creation during his correspondence with Masterworks.

“It makes sense — if it was in the private collection for so long. We don't yet know the entire history of the picture.”

Excellently preserved: Near Wreck House, a 1950 watercolour on paper by Andrew Wyeth, has been undergoing evaluation and treatment

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Published April 21, 2015 at 9:00 am (Updated April 21, 2015 at 1:44 am)

Hidden art treasure to go on show

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