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  1. Visual Arts

Wyeth painting from Museum of Fine Arts on loan to National Gallery

Andrew Wyeth’s Wisteria, 1981, watercolor on paper, is in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg. It’s now on loan to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., for a prestigious exhibition.
Published Apr. 15, 2014

The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., is one of the major museums in the United States. Like all great museums, it organizes most of its shows based on its world-class permanent collection, often augmented by loans from other institutions and private collectors.

The Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg is one of those lenders for a new exhibition opening at the National Gallery on May 4.

"Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In" features about 60 tempera paintings, watercolors and drawings in which the main subject matter is a window and the view it provides. Wisteria, from the MFA collection, is part of it.

Windows may seem an innocuous theme compared to the artist's psychologically complex figurative works such as Christina's World, in which a paralyzed young woman crawls up a hill toward her house.

But there's plenty of drama in the subject matter. Wyeth (1917-2009) was beloved and admired throughout his career for his meticulous, realistic depictions that also suggested much going on beneath the beautiful surfaces. That's true of Wisteria. Here's what I wrote about it when it came into the collection in 2006, a gift of Mary Alice and the late Doyle McClendon:

"This Andrew Wyeth watercolor looks so fresh and simple. Fresh, yes. Simple, no.

"Wyeth is no showoff, but his mastery of white — not an easy color for the medium — dominates the painting in nuanced shades deeper than any single color. And the view, too, is unorthodox. From the window we see a landscape, green but dark, a contrast to the bright walls. It should be an interior perspective. But no. Beneath the window in the foreground is a vine that looks to be growing wild. And the shutter, in its own shade of white and punctuated by an iron lock, has the look of an exterior closure.

"Wyeth's landscape asks us to forgo assumptions while contemplating inner, not outer, weather."

The inspiration for the National Gallery show was a recent gift of Wyeth's masterful 1947 Wind From the Sea, which shows a lacy curtain waving in an open window with a landscape beyond. It was his first painting using that subject and it was followed by more than 250 explorations of it throughout his life.

For more information about "Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In," go to nga.gov.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.

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