Thursday, January 29, 2009

The greatness of ‘Brandywine,’ and Jesse Wilcox Smith

Jan. 29, 2009
Posted by Noah

In my years in the Northeast and New England as an antiques, art and architecture writer and editor, I was fortunate to encounter, first hand, the highways, byways and venues that inspired some of the greatest fine art movements that America ever offered. Chief among those two were always the Hudson River Valley School – I lived in its heart, in Rhinebeck, NY – and the Brandywine School of Painting. While I never lived in the Brandywine region of Pennsylvania, I sure traveled there a lot for shows, to interview dealers and artists, and to write about historic sites, including an ill-fated interview with Jamie Wyeth of which the less I say the better. Now I find, years and thousands of miles later, that The Brandywine School has found me here in Dallas, for which I am very grateful.

Brandywine will be amply represented in the March 12-13 Illustration auction here with an original painting by Jesse Willcox Smith – The Then Lover – as well as with a rare painting from Maxfield Parrish, one of Willcox’s contemporaries. Brandywine, as a concept, represents the school of artists that studied with Harold Pyle in Chadd’s Ford, PA at the end of the 19th Century. The illustrations and art to come out of it are unmistakable. The examples in this auction are classic Brandywine, especially the Willcox Smith, and are as good as any painting hanging in any museum in the world.

Willcox Smith was best known for her paintings of “perfect” little girls for a number of major magazines of the day. The Then Lover is a perfect example of one of her angelic girls. What’s always moved me about her paintings of these girls is that while they present a perfect façade, there is always something brewing in their eyes; a far-away look, a winsomeness that bespeaks a greater discontent. You can see where the recently departed Andrew Wyeth got his melancholy from when you look at Willcox Smith’s girls. It’s great stuff.