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Andrew Wyeth’s ‘Ides of March’

Ides of March

In many of Andrew Wyeth’s artwork, there exists a clash, often a duality of images and emotions. This sentiment is blatantly apparent in his piece titled Ides of March.

Wyeth is a master at blending the smooth and gentle with the harsh and jagged. With regard to his paintings, he once stated that “...something waits beneath it [the painting], the whole story doesn’t show.” This can be said for the majority of his pieces. They seem to suggest that something is lurking behind the scene, as if you have walked into a story having missed the beginning.

Sense the Softness
With one glance at Ides of March, viewers can feel the tranquility of the gentle imagery. To the right of the hearth lies a golden-haired dog. Its body suggests that it is asleep, but a closer look reveals that the dog’s eyes are indeed open and staring out at the world. It appears to be trying to communicate a message, signalling the approach of things to come. The shadows on the floor indicate that it is dusk, a time to relax from the day’s activities. The whole seems to be a peaceful scene, until the other half of the painting is taken into consideration.

The Harsher Side
In stark contrast with the calm, pale-hued dog is the dark hearth and its metal riggings that hang ominously. The edges of the metal contraption are jagged, and although they would be commonly used to hang pots over the fire, no meal is simmering over the coals at this moment, and the fire has died. In fact, a rather tortuous element is felt as one observes the sharp, menacing hooks. A dark hole in the wall, above the iron grating, conveys an aura of doom. Since Wyeth was said to be fascinated with death, a gruesome aspect is often found in his work.

Aptly-Named
Although ‘Ides of March’ may seem to be an odd title for the painting, it is rather appropriate as the term is often used to describe a time of foreboding. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Caesar is warned by a soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March” (Caesar’s death occurred mid-month, on March 15). To this day, the idiom is widely associated with doom and danger. The word “ides” means ‘half-division’ in Latin, which can be aptly applied to this painting because of its undeniable dichotomy.

 

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