A Wyeth Halloween

Driving through the changing Brandywine countryside, currently full of color as the foliage puts on a stunning display, any art lover can’t help but be reminded of the gorgeous landscapes painted by so many local artists, especially those of Andrew Wyeth. However, it wasn’t just the landscape which inspired Andrew Wyeth’s autumnal visions. Some of Wyeth’s most famous paintings prominently display pumpkins and shadowy figures, and he frequently claimed Halloween as an influence in interviews throughout his life.

"Jack Be Nimble" by Andrew Wyeth Photo courtesy of Barbara Moore Fine Art

The inspiration provided by this time of year is a Wyeth family artistic tradition, starting with N.C. Wyeth. Bringing Home the Pumpkins is a wonderfully evocative painting showing an older farmer and a boy carrying large pumpkins past sheaves of dry cornstalks. Everyone who has gone pumpkin picking recently can empathize with the concerned look on the small boy’s face. Perhaps, like us, he has discovered that a fresh pumpkin is much heavier than it appears.

A later painting, The Homecoming, shows autumn at its peak, with rolling rust-colored hills, bright red and yellow trees, and a dog leaping joyfully down a lane toward a soldier who seems to have just returned from war. The painting was on the cover Woman’s Day magazine in November 1945, the issue celebrating the end of World War II and homecomings of soldiers across the nation. The soldier, returning to a beautiful familiar landscape seemingly untouched by the troubles of recent years, looks toward home, and one can imagine the feelings this painting inspired in readers when it was delivered.

The spooky and mysterious shares focus with other subjects in the work of three generations of Wyeths, all of whom add their own unique flair to seasonal visions. A 2015 exhibit of work by Andrew and Jamie Wyeth entitled Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio at the Denver Art Museum showcased many pieces with autumnal colors and scenes by both artists. Stefania Van Dyke, Associate Director of Interpretive Engagement at the museum, wrote about Wyeth’s fascination with Halloween in a piece covering the exhibit, noting that it was not just an annual celebration but a running theme.

Van Dyke quotes Andrew Wyeth in her piece: “There’s witchcraft and hidden meaning there. Halloween and all that is strangely tied into [my paintings]. For me, the paintings have that eerie feeling of goblins and witches out riding on broomsticks—damp rotting leaves and moisture—smell of make-up—as a child, the smell inside of a pumpkin when a candle is lit—the feel of your face under a mask walking down a road in the moonlight. I love all that, because they don’t exist anymore.”

The imagery perfectly matches the feel of Wyeth’s Pumpkins or Jack Be Nimble, two of his idyllic and haunting seasonal paintings. Pumpkins shows a haphazard pile of giant pumpkins, or so the perspective makes them seem, laying in a windswept landscape before an old farm building that seems to be just one gust away from joining the pile. Jack Be Nimble, on the other hand, is a true Halloween masterpiece. Carved jack-o’-lanterns are carefully stacked on a cloudy night, the moon peeking through a small gap just above the trees, and you can imagine walking around to see the faces carved on each side. The painting invites you to look closer through the toothsome mouth and marvel at the texture shown inside the carvings. The details are marvelous, down to the hole in the back of the pumpkins so necessary to insert a match through to light the candle, back before battery-operated lights on timers that come on automatically at sunset were available.

But Wyeth’s quote also matches the sensations of fall we can all experience. “Something wicked this way comes,” perhaps, but there is also so much beauty to be found in the short days and eerie nights of autumn. You can feel the spirit of these paintings by the Wyeths simply by taking an afternoon walk or an evening drive. The crisp air and the dry grass, the smell of so many freshly-dissected gourds at The Great Pumpkin Carve hosted by the Chadds Ford Historical Society or the sight of overflowing mounds of mums scattered throughout Longwood Gardens, it is truly a gorgeous time to explore and ruminate on the artistic encounters of the season.

About Victoria Rose

Victoria Rose (she/her) is an editor, writer, avid reader, self-described geek, and fan of all things creative. Her passion for words has led to her current career as a freelance editor, and she is the owner of Flickering Words, an editing service. When not wielding a red pen (or cursor), she loves reading books of all genres, playing video, board, and word games, baking ridiculous creations to show off on the internet, or enjoying the gorgeous outdoors. She is a board member of the West Chester Film Festival and part of the Thirsty Monsters, a team of streamers from around the world who fundraise for various charities supporting LGBTQIA+ and accessibility rights. She can be found online @WordsFlickering or the Brandywine Art Guide @BrandywineArtGuide.



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