N.C. Wyeth's wondrous paintings of The Last of the Mohicans, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure Island have given visual form to these stories for generations of readers. Wyeth's extraordinary pictures still carry all the power they had in their heyday. And communal, millennial-bound nostalgia for the first half of the 20th century gives the paintings, if possible, an even more sentimental glow. This meticulous, encompassing study of the tempestuous, difficult, brilliant illustrator also delves into the entire clan of famous Wyeth artists, including Andrew (who was offered a bribe to delay his marriage), and Peter Hurd (who married Andrew's sister Henriette then escaped with her to New Mexico).
David Michaelis has done an extraordinary amount of research, and the book should mesmerize Wyeth fans. But he seems to doubt his own ability to make this dramatic material come alive, for he resorts to false suspense--using a baby's death and the suggestion of foul play on page 1 to hook the reader, but nearly 200 pages later allows that there's not really any evidence for his conjectures. And he liberally employs italics, giving the text an insistent tone that is at times intrusive. Nonetheless, Michaelis adroitly chronicles Wyeth's complicated, fraught relationship with his family. And he is especially perceptive in his analysis of N.C.'s stormy ties to his mentor, Howard Pyle. The artist's genteel inability to talk money, even during the Depression; his devotion to his neurotic mother; and the magical world of Chadd's Ford, where he watchfully, jealously raised his children, are all beautifully described. This is a valuable, multifaceted look at a passionate, difficult subject. In the end, Wyeth emerges, warts and all, as a complex individual, whose inner life was thoroughly entwined with every aspect of his art. --Peggy Moorman [via]