Poems of Pa­tri­o­tism

N.C. Wyeth il­lus­tra­tions from 1922 po­etry book now on view at the Farnsworth Art Mu­seum in Maine

American Fine Art Magazine - - Event Preview: New York, Ny -

In 1922, fol­low­ing the dev­as­ta­tion of World War I, Scrib­ner’s pub­lish­ing house sought to com­mem­o­rate the valiant vic­tory and the hero­ism of Amer­i­can sol­diers by re-pub­lish­ing Bran­der Matthews’ 1882 po­etry com­pi­la­tion Poems of Amer­i­can Pa­tri­o­tism, which con­tained iconic works from Henry Wadsworth Longfel­low, Fran­cis Scott Key,walt Whit­man and many oth­ers. With the war’s car­nage still fresh in read­ers’ minds, Scrib­ner’s cut some poems and added oth­ers, and de­cided to add il­lus­tra­tions that would in­voke the pa­tri­otic spirit that runs through the po­etry.the pub­lish­ing pow­er­house turned to one of its most bank­able stars, N.c.wyeth, who had, within the pre­vi­ous decade, il­lus­trated definitive edi­tions of Trea­sure Is­land, Robin­son Cru­soe, The Last of the Mo­hi­cans and oth­ers.

The book was a sen­sa­tional hit, but the story doesn’t end there.

The com­pleted paint­ings—17 in all, in­clud­ing a fron­tispiece and a cover fea­tur­ing an Amer­i­can dough­boy in World War I—were even­tu­ally sold to an ath­letic di­rec­tor at the Hill School in Pottstown, Penn­syl­va­nia. He later do­nated them to the school, which has dis­played them in a din­ing hall for decades.the din­ing hall is slated for a ren­o­va­tion, so all 17 works from Poems of Amer­i­can Pa­tri­o­tism are on loan to the Farnsworth Art Mu­seum in Rock­land, Maine.the exhibition, N.c.wyeth:

Poems of Amer­i­can Pa­tri­o­tism, opens June 16 and continues through Oc­to­ber 28. The Farnsworth was cho­sen for the tem­po­rary exhibition due to a pre­vi­ous exhibition of the works in 2010. For this sec­ond show­ing of the paint­ings, Farnsworth chief cu­ra­tor Michael Ko­ma­necky has com­pleted ad­di­tional schol­ar­ship re­lated to the works, par­tic­u­larly in re­la­tion to the at­ti­tudes to­ward po­etry dur­ing those piv­otal years in the late-19th cen­tury and ear­ly20th cen­tury. It was a pe­riod be­fore film and tele­vi­sion, and even ra­dio, when most Amer­i­cans ex­pe­ri­enced the arts

through live per­for­mance, fine paint­ings and sculp­ture, books and po­etry. “Div­ing into the paint­ings again

I was pleased to find a far richer and deeper story about the preva­lence and pop­u­lar­ity of po­etry in mid­dle-class cul­ture be­gin­ning af­ter the Civil War and con­tin­u­ing well into the 20th cen­tury,” Ko­ma­necky says.“it’s hard to imag­ine it to­day be­cause po­etry isn’t given that much at­ten­tion, but po­etry played a piv­otal role in Amer­i­can cul­ture, so much that stu­dents in every pub­lic school of the day were asked to read, study, re­cite and mem­o­rize po­etry. I still bump into peo­ple, typ­i­cally older peo­ple, who can re­cite poems from mem­ory even to this day, and that was be­cause they grew up in a time when po­etry was crit­i­cally im­por­tant to Amer­i­can cul­ture.” Ko­ma­necky continues:“it was in this pe­riod that is re­flected so ac­cu­rately in Poems of Amer­i­can Pa­tri­o­tism, which was beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated by N.c.wyeth.” Il­lus­tra­tions in­clude sev­eral fa­mous Wyeth works: Paul Re­vere (Paul Re­vere’s Ride), show­ing Re­vere and his horse, all four feet air­borne, gal­lop­ing past a home that has been stirred awake by his warn­ings about the Bri­tish army; The

Old Con­ti­nen­tals, with its bat­tle-rav­aged colonists hero­ically stand­ing amid the hazy fog of war; and Washington Re­view­ing His Troops, which shows Gen­eral Ge­orge Washington, his coat flut­ter­ing in a frigid gust of wind, in­spect­ing a row of sol­diers.the works are ren­dered in Wyeth’s un­mis­tak­able style, with his sense of move­ment, vi­brant back­ground colors and cin­e­matic com­po­si­tions.

“N.C. was a very deft painter.when he was pre­par­ing il­lus­tra­tion for any book or ar­ti­cle he did thor­ough re­search of the ma­te­ri­als, in­clud­ing peo­ple and places, the sub­jects he se­lected…his paint­ings were about cap­tur­ing his sub­jects in an ide­al­ized way. He knew the time and place he was de­pict­ing and he cap­tured it won­der­fully,” Ko­ma­necky says.“the paint­ings are roughly 40 inches high be­cause he un­der­stood how the print­ing process worked, and how they would be pho­tographed and re­pro­duced. He painted a lim­ited amount of detail where he had to.the im­ages were re­pro­duced in color, so his colors are very lively and bold. He knew how to paint so it would trans­late to the fin­ished pro­ject, as did the peo­ple he learned from, peo­ple like Howard Pyle and Frank Schoonover.” The hor­rors of World War I, the event which pre­cip­i­tated the re­pub­li­ca­tion of the book, were cer­tainly vi­o­lent be­yond com­pre­hen­sion—trench war­fare, chem­i­cal weapons, larger and more de­struc­tive bombs and ar­tillery—but those as­pects are largely ab­sent as Wyeth painted a more romantic no­tion of pa­tri­o­tism.“to me it’s an as­pect of the works that stands out,” Ko­ma­necky says.“his de­pic­tions of heroes of­ten in the midst of con­flict and war, are san­i­tized.they don’t show the grue­some­ness and the car­nage of war, and it’s un­der­stand­able for a num­ber of rea­sons. It took re­straint, es­pe­cially when you think about the ter­ri­ble dev­as­ta­tion that was vis­ited on peo­ple dur­ing­world­war I— peo­ple had enough, and they wanted to look back on it all in a dif­fer­ent way.”

The exhibition continues through Oc­to­ber 28 in Maine.

N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), Paul Re­vere (Paul Re­vere’s Ride), 1922. Oil on can­vas, 40¼ x 30¼ in. Col­lec­tion of The Hill School, Pottstown, PA.

N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), Bar­bara Fri­etchie, 1922. Oil on can­vas, 401/8 x 30 in. Col­lec­tion of The Hill School, Pottstown, PA.

N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), O Cap­tain! My Cap­tain!, 1922. Oil on can­vas, 397/8 x 301/8 in. Col­lec­tion of The Hill School, Pottstown, PA.

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