As the catalogue to the exhibition points out, Henriette was truly the “prodigy” of the family, the talented child upon whom N.C. placed his highest hopes. When young, rough-and-ready artist Peter Hurd descended upon Chadds Ford to learn from N.C., Henriette found a partner in both life and art. After their marriage, they moved back to Peter’s native New Mexico. Perhaps because of that distance, the subject matter of Henriette’s work goes in a different direction from that of her brother Andrew, which is so inextricably rooted to Chadds Ford. Henriette gained much success in painting portraits of actress Helen Hayes, Mrs. John D. Rockerfeller III, and First Lady Pat Nixon, but it was in her still lifes, such as Gardenias, that she found a gentler subject. Henriette’s ability to depict the shimmering textures of seashells and the almost nothingness of feathers demonstrates not only her skill but the vast departure she made from the world of her father and the sturdy action figures of his illustration work.
The bond between the children of N.C. Wyeth transcended place and time. Each stemming from that common root of imagination flowered in their own way. To look at Henriette’s painting is to see hints of Andrew filtered through N.C. and Peter Hurd. To look at Ann’s art is to see the domestic bliss and powerful sense of place fostered by the nurturing education environment of her father. To look at Carolyn’s work is to see pure, rough-hewn honesty of her father, and to understand why Andrew valued her imput after their father’s death in developing his own vision. Those connections don't diminish these women but, rather, should enhance just how strong their works are next to the more recognized works of the Wyeth men. Wyeth Women—An Exhibition of Paintings by The Daughters of N.C. Wyeth brings the larger picture of the Brandywine School into sharper focus and hints at the still-to-be-written chapters of the Wyeth dynasty’s story.
[Many thanks to Somerville Manning Gallery for providing me with a copy of the catalogue to Wyeth Women—An Exhibition of Paintings by The Daughters of N.C. Wyeth and for the images from the exhibition.]