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watercolor on paper
18 in. x 22 in. (45.72 cm x 55.88 cm)
Henry Melville Fuller Fund, 2004.41

Andrew Wyeth

(For biographical information on Andrew Wyeth, see entry under Wyeth, Spindrift, 1950.2)

After some four years of study with his father, Andrew Wyeth painted a series of watercolors that led to his first one-person exhibition at New York's Macbeth Gallery in the fall of 1937. Depicting scenes of the Maine coast near the Wyeth family's summer home at Port Clyde, these watercolors were executed with a verve and authority that attracted the attention of critics almost immediately. A second show followed in 1938 at the Boston gallery of Doll and Richards, and in 1939 Wyeth was given his first museum exhibition at the Currier Gallery of Art. The Currier exhibition included four early tempera paintings and twenty watercolors, including this bold Maine view, Cat-O'-Nine-Tails.

Cat-O'-Nine-Tails takes its name from the patch of swamp plants (popularly known as cattails) in the foreground of the composition. The viewer looks from a point of land across an open channel to a rocky islet in the middle distance. There, silhouetted against the gray sky, the blocky form of a small house serves as both a focal point and an indication of scale. The whole is rendered in an Impressionistic combination of wet-on-wet and dry-brushed watercolor technique; however, in contrast to the high-keyed and buoyant palette of Impressionism, Wyeth's colors are autumnal, even stark.

The vigorous brushwork and sober tone of Cat-O'-Nine-Tails and other watercolors of this period reveal Wyeth's keen awareness of the work of Winslow Homer (q.v.). In the years after Homer's death in 1910, the artist's reputation had increased steadily, and his dramatic images of Maine were among the most celebrated in American art. For Wyeth, then an aspiring young artist with his own connections to Maine, the attraction of Homer was strong. The raw power of his late marines struck a responsive chord in Wyeth, who sought to capture the rugged strength of Maine without resorting to the stormy seas and black rocks that feature in many of Homer's Prout's Neck paintings. The resulting body of work, which includes the Currier painting, is quieter but more brooding and deeply felt.

Included in the exhibition, Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors, at the Currier Museum of Art in 2004-05, Cat-O'-Nine-Tails was purchased by the Currier through the Wyeth family.



Susan Strickler. Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors. Ex. cat. Currier Museum of Art, 2004.

1939 Currier Gallery of Art, Manchester, NH, "Watercolors by Andrew Wyeth." April 1 - 30.

2004-2005 "Andrew Wyeth: Early Watercolors." Organized by the Currier Museum of Art. Traveled to: Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, Oct. 8, 2004 - Jan. 10, 2005; Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME, April 5 - July 24, 2005.

2010 Currier Museum of Art, Manchester, NH, "From Homer to Hopper: American Watercolor Masterworks from the Currier Museum of Art." March 6 - June 7.

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