In truth, Wyeth deserves better. As Meryman points out, Betsy had displayed great jealousy toward a young woman whom Wyeth painted before he began the Helga series. His wife had even issued an edict: if ever he produced a similar sequence, she ordered, "don't tell me." In an interesting coda, we learn that Helga has been accepted by Betsy, and helps take care of the somewhat frail, infirm painter, who turns 80 this month.
No one who reads this sympathetic but probing biography will ever look at Wyeth's seemingly serene pictures the same way again. Descriptions of the context and significance of major works are bound to enhance appreciation for paintings that include such masterpieces as Christina's World (1948), Karl (1948), The Patriot (1964), Alvaro and Christina (1968), Barracoon (1976), and Night Shadow (1979).
The book could use more color plates and an index, but these quibbles aside, this is as rich and nuanced a treatment of the elusive Andrew Wyeth as we will ever see.
Whether or not Meryman's biography stills the art-world chorus that slavishly condemns the work of this American master, nothing is likely to diminish Andrew Wyeth's appeal as a best-selling, much-beloved artist and as a record-breaking museum exhibition subject. This exemplary portrait of a remarkable person — and painter — deserves careful reading by his vast public, admirers and detractors alike.
Stephen May writes about art and culture from Washington, D.C. and Maine.