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Study for April Wind

Study for April Wind
Study for April Wind

Andrew Wyeth was devoted to painting the people and landscapes of his hometown Chadds Ford in Pennsylvania, and his summer home in Cushing, Maine. As with many of his paintings, Wyeth did a number of studies prior to creating the final piece. ‘Study for April Wind’ is a case in point.  It depicts a solitary man, head bent, sitting on the massive trunk of a fallen tree in a desolate field. ‘April Wind’ (1952), the final version, is housed in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.

The Subject
The male figure in ‘Study for April Wind’ was a friend of Andrew Wyeth, an African American man by the name of James Loper, also the subject of another famous portrait by Wyeth. Typical of Wyeth’s use of models, he is painted with his back to viewers. His coat collar partially disappears into his hunched shoulders, creating an impression of worry or sorrow in the man’s overall appearance. There is an aura of mystery about the figure, a sense that the man has a moving tale to tell. A strong wind blows his long coat outward - perhaps the gales of life that have buffeted this man continue to blow. His coat is well-worn, the hem is ragged, and a bit of light sneaks through a buttonhole. His gnarled hand rests firmly against the tree trunk, bracing his body not only against the wind, but also life itself. He appears lone and small in the vast expanse of the landscape stretching out into the unknown.

The finished piece, as well as the studies, focuses primarily on the ring adorning the man’s pinky finger. Masterfully achieved, light bounces off the ring’s reflective surface to produce one of the few bright spots in a painting otherwise dominated by muted shades – possibly, a ray of hope.

The Technique
Wyeth did not like working in traditional oil paints, preferring instead the medium of egg tempera and watercolors.  Egg tempera is a very difficult medium to work with because it is a very dry pigment that sets quickly. Perhaps that helps explain why there are multiple pencil and watercolor studies that precede many of Wyeth’s finished works. He needed to know in advance exactly what he was trying to achieve before initiating the final piece. ‘Study for April Wind’ represents Wyeth’s careful planning before final execution.

A Note of Interest
From March through July 2012, the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut presented a special exhibition (Andrew Wyeth: Looking Beyond) composed of three of Wyeth’s egg tempera paintings and their studies, including ‘April Wind’ and ‘Study for April Wind’.  It is interesting that some of the studies for ‘April Wind’ show a branch pointing upwards from the trunk of the fallen tree, but this feature does not appear in the final version.

Andrew Wyeth occupies a difficult place in American art. He is one the most successful and beloved of American painters in the 20th century but, at the same time, has been the object of much criticism, with some finding his paintings both formulaic and boring in treating the same themes repetitively. Whether you find Wyeth’s paintings sentimental drivel or works endowed with powerful emotional sensitivity towards the people and landscapes he loved so dearly, there is no doubt that he was a technical master at his craft. ‘Study for April Wind’ is a prime example from the peak of his career.

 

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