One of the most successful illustrators of all time, Newell Convers Wyeth studied under Howard Pyle between 1902-1904 in Chadds Ford. Perhaps more than any other student, he took Pyle’s dictates completely to heart. He is the preeminent example of the results of Pyle’s teachings, following every precept religiously. During his career, Wyeth painted nearly 4,000 illustrations for many magazines and books. An early aficionado of Pyle’s, Wyeth became his greatest advocate even settling his family in the Brandywine area, where many of them still live today.
Much of NC Wyeth’s art embraced an American Western theme, filled with cowboys and Indians, gun fighters and gold miners. He also illustrated popular children’s books with pirates, knights, and brigands, including Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer, establishing visual images of these characters in young readers’ minds eyes for generations. Beside his many illustration plaudits, NC Wyeth is famous for being the father of artist Andrew Wyeth and the grandfather of artist Jamie Wyeth – a patrimony of major consequence for American art history.
N.C. sold his first illustration to the Post in 1903 at 21 years of age; his first book commission was accepted in 1911, illustrating Treasure Island for the noted publisher Charles Scribner’s Sons. So well received was his first book, that he illustrated a whole range of “boy’s adventure books” which came to be known as Scribner’s Classics, including Kidnapped, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, The Boy’s King Arthur, The Last of the Mohicans, and twenty other titles. The Scribner’s Classics have never waned in popularity and, indeed, remain in print to this day. Wyeth’s valiant and heroic characters created prototypes of our American heroes, which have lasted to set the standard for movie, television, and computer game heroes. Many of our real life heroes are modeled on those first envisaged by NC Wyeth, as most boys see themselves in roles of heroic nature and act accordingly when the occasion arises.
Born in Needham, Massachusetts in 1882, Newell Convers Wyeth showed an early passion for drawing and was encouraged by his family. From 1903 until his tragic death in a 1945 car accident at a railroad crossing, N.C. Wyeth set new standards for illustrators in style, technique, and imagination. He had an extraordinary ability to create living characters from an author’s imaginary story. Because of his fantastical imagination, he envisaged all aspects of a story and often identified crucial elements simply overlooked by the author himself. Cooper, DeFoe, Irving, Stevenson, and Verne were some of the authors whose works he illustrated.
In his youth, Wyeth’s parents enrolled him in the Massachusetts Normal Arts School with further study at the Eric Pape School of Art. By 1901, N.C. was in Annisquam, Gloucester, Massachusetts, attending private classes instructed by George L. Noyes, a noted landscape artist.
N.C. Wyeth arrived in Wilmington on his twentieth birthday and met Howard Pyle for the first time. Some have said that other than his valued teaching and inspiration, Pyle’s many contacts with publishers and art directors were his greatest contribution to his students, as he would often secure commissions and staff positions for his students.
Pyle encouraged his students to “jump into their paintings to know the place” they were depicting; in other words, to go and experience the environments. Wyeth took him literally and went out West to live with the Utes and Navahos. For three months he punched cattle, herded, was a mail-carrier, and documented his experiences in meticulous drawings. When he returned, his incredible artwork was sought after and published at an astonishing rate. Snowbound
N.C. Wyeth married in 1906, moved to Chadds Ford and continued to illustrate books, magazines, advertisements, mural commissions, and that which he cherished most, the rural American scene. Wyeth also illustrated a number of books for Cosmopolitan Book Corporation, Houghton Mifflin Company, Little Brown and Company, David McKay Company, and Harper & Brothers. Notable among them were the Mysterious Stranger (1916), Robin Hood (1917), Robinson Crusoe (1920), Rip Van Winkle (1921) and The White Company (1922).
Wyeth found it financially lucrative to accept commercial work in the form of advertisements, calendars and posters. The range and the quality of these advertisements vary from the elementary Lucky Strike and Coca-Cola series to the beautiful paintings of Beethoven, Wagner and Liszt for Steinway & Sons.
For years, Wyeth had looked upon illustration as a financial means of support for his family but wanted most of all to be recognized as a fine artist. In the 1930’s, N.C. Wyeth was accepting fewer illustration and advertising commissions and devoted more time to easel paintings of landscapes.