Wyeth masterpiece comes home to Bermuda
A renowned Andrew Wyeth painting that provided “a significant catalyst” for the establishment of the Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art 30 years ago is set to be on exhibit at the gallery this month.
Andrew Wyeth's 1950 watercolour Royal Palms, an atmospheric depiction of Shinbone Alley in the Town of St George, has been loaned to the museum by one of its Bermuda patrons.
It will be publicly exhibited at Masterworks' Botanical Gardens gallery for the first time at the forthcoming “A Treasured Island” show, opening on Saturday.
In 1986, the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, in conjunction with the Heritage Committee, mounted an exhibition of Bermuda-inspired artwork for Heritage Month in Hamilton's City Hall.
A private American collector loaned the celebrated Wyeth watercolour to Bermuda for that two-week exhibit.
The show was a major success, drawing thousands of residents and tourists eager to see the Island through the eyes of prominent artists who had visited in the 19th and 20th centuries.
“The Wyeth painting was the true centrepiece of that Heritage Month exhibit,” said Masterworks' curator, Elise Outerbridge.
“For Bermudians, this was the first time an international art treasure of this magnitude had been back on local soil since the time it was painted.
“For visitors it provided an added bonus in coming to Bermuda since the work was rarely, if ever, exhibited anywhere.”
The success of that Heritage Month exhibition was one of the principal inspirations for Masterworks' founder and creative director, Tom Butterfield, to pursue the idea of establishing a museum dedicated to Bermuda's role as muse to a wide variety of artists.
The inclusion of Royal Palms in that exhibit, one of only four Bermuda works by a giant of 20th-century American art, made a particularly profound impression on him.
“The Wyeth watercolour was a significant catalyst in the formation of Masterworks,” he said.
“It is not just an artistically and culturally significant painting of Bermuda, it is an artistically and culturally significant painting, full stop.
“We were fortunate enough to borrow Royal Palms for the opening of our museum in 2008 but I had always dreamed of being able to permanently repatriate it back to Bermuda.
“The three other Andrew Wyeth Bermuda paintings are in major museums. This one was always in private hands and so was the only one of his Bermuda works we even had an outside chance of seeing returned to the Island.”
Mr Butterfield said contacts in the art world alerted him when the painting eventually changed hands.
“When Royal Palms was handed down to the grandson of the woman who had owned it, I was able to let our interest in it be known through a friend in New York,” he said. “Eventually the new owner said he'd be willing to part with it.”
The painting was purchased by one of the museum's Bermuda benefactors, who prefers to remain anonymous.
“The return of Royal Palms to Bermuda is huge and completes the circle of A-list artists, including Winslow Homer, Georgia O'Keeffe and Albert Gleizes, whose works have either been displayed at Masterworks or are a part of our permanent collection,” Mr Butterfield said. “I never thought I'd see this in my lifetime. After more than 60 years, a Wyeth Bermuda painting is finally home for good.
“The circle is now complete and Bermuda really can boast of an international collection worthy of any metropolis of any size.
“The fact we are only 60,000-strong is a testament to the strength of the local support we have received over the years. Thank you all.”
Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), one of the most popular and critically acclaimed painters in the history of American art, was best known for his flinty realist depictions of the people and landscapes of rural Pennsylvania and Maine.
Perhaps his most famous work, Christina's World, is an icon of American art, as instantly recognisable as Grant Wood's American Gothic or Whistler's portrait of his mother. The painter had seen Christina Olson, crippled from the waist down, dragging herself across a Maine field, “like a crab on a New England shore”, he recalled.
“To him she was a model of dignity who refused to use a wheelchair and preferred to live in squalor rather than be beholden to anyone,” read his New York Times obituary.
“It was dignity of a particularly dour, hardened, misanthropic sort, to which Wyeth throughout his career seemed to gravitate. Olson is shown in the picture from the back.”
Andrew Wyeth visited Bermuda in 1950 and the handful of paintings he is known to have completed here include the recently discovered Near Wreck House, acquired by a Delaware museum this year.
The artist stayed at that Sandys Parish estate, then the home of his friends, Mr and Mrs Crawford Greenewalt, during his visit to the Island along with fellow painter John McCoy and his wife Ann Wyeth McCoy, Wyeth's sister.
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