Andrew Newell Wyeth was born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, on July 12, 1917, a son of the internationally renowned painter and illustrator N.C. Wyeth and his wife Carolyn Bockius Wyeth. Theirs was a creative family: Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Carolyn Wyeth and Andrew were painters; Ann Wyeth McCoy was a composer; and son Nathaniel was an engineer and inventor with many patents to his credit.
At age 15, Wyeth began his artistic training in his father's studio. In that year, on one of his boyhood walks, he discovered the Chadds Ford farm of Karl and Anna Kuerner. Wyeth was intrigued by Kuerner, a German immigrant and World War I veteran, developing a close relationship with him over the years. Wyeth has found subjects in the Kuerner farm's people, animals, buildings and landscapes for hundreds of works of art over more than 75 years.
The Wyeth family spent summer months in Maine, and Andrew Wyeth's early watercolor landscapes, much influenced by the work of Winslow Homer met with enormous critical acclaim at his first one-man show at the William Macbeth Gallery in New York City in 1937. An exceedingly self-critical artist, this immediate success did not reassure him. Feeling that his work was too facile, he returned to his father's studio for further concentration on technique.
Wyeth soon began working in egg tempera, a renaissance technique introduced to him by his brother-in-law, the painter Peter Hurd. Tempera became his major medium. He said that it forced him to slow down the execution of a painting and enabled him to achieve the superb textural effects that distinguish his work. His other mediums were watercolor and dry brush watercolor.
In 1940, Wyeth married Betsy James, whom he had met in Maine the previous summer. It was Betsy who introduced Wyeth to her long-time friend Christina Olson. Olson's character represented "old Maine" to him, and she became his model for many works of art, including Christina's World.
Wyeth caused a sensation in 1986 with the revelation of a large collection of paintings featuring German immigrant Helga Testorf, a Chadds Ford neighbor. The paintings were first exhibited at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. the following year, and were then exhibited internationally and seen by millions.
Wyeth received many awards during his lifetime. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy named Wyeth the first artist to receive the Presidential Freedom Award, the country's highest civilian award. In 1970, he was the first living artist to have an exhibition at the White House. Wyeth's other tributes include the gold medal for painting from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1965), several painting and watercolor awards and numerous honorary degrees. In 1977 he made his first trip to Europe to be inducted into the French Academy of the Fine Arts, becoming the only American artist since John Singer Sargent to be admitted to the Academy. The Soviet Academy of the Arts elected him an honorary member in 1978. He received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1990. In 2007, he was awarded the Maine in America Award from the Farnsworth Art Museum as well as the National Medal of Arts. He also received numerous honorary degrees.
One-artist exhibitions of his work routinely broke attendance records at major museums, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Baltimore Museum of Art; the Whitney Museum of American Art; the Museum of' Fine Arts, Boston; The Art Institute of Chicago; and the Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco. His work was also exhibited at museums throughout the world, including the National Museum of Modem Art in Tokyo; the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg; the Palazzo Reale in Milan; and the Academic des Beaux Arts, Paris, among many other museums. He was the first living American artist to have an exhibit ion at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. An exhibition of his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2006 drew 177,000 visitors in 15 weeks, the highest-ever attendance at the museum for the work of a living artist.
His work is included in many major American museums, including The Museum of Modem Art in New York City and the National Gallery of Art, as well as the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, to name only a few. The Farnsworth mounts four exhibitions every year of Andrew Wyeth's work, in part through the generosity of the collection of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth and other private lenders.