The Brandywine River Museum of Art, long associated with Andrew Wyeth, a museum neighbor in Chadds Ford, has received a major gift of nearly 200 artworks by his family and friends, including 40 works by the artist’s father, the famed illustrator, N.C. Wyeth.
The artworks, given to the museum by the Andrew Wyeth Foundation for American Art, includes more than 30 works by Howard Pyle, founder of the so-called Brandywine School of Art and N.C.’s teacher, and paintings and drawings by Daniel Garber, Carolyn Wyeth, Henriette Wyeth Hurd, Peter Hurd, John McCoy, George A. “Frolic” Weymouth, and others.
In addition to the donation of these works, the museum has entered into a collection-sharing arrangement with the foundation and the Farnsworth Art Museum, in Rockland, Maine, where Wyeth and his family spent summers. The agreement covers many works familiar to museumgoers, as well as thousands of pieces never seen in public before, according to Virginia Logan, executive director of the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art.
“A number of the major temperas have been long displayed at the museum, and so some of that work will be very familiar to people,” said Logan in an interview Thursday. “What’s new will be thousands, literally thousands of watercolors, other works on paper, sketches, studies, things like that, that have never been seen before.”
The works held by the foundation were assembled by Betsy James Wyeth, the artist’s wife and de-facto business manager, who gathered the art together and discussed with the museums how to to establish a workable plan for the Wyeth estate. The artist died in 2009 and Betsy Wyeth died in 2020.
Officials said the collection-sharing agreement marked the culmination of talks with both Wyeths, and close friends and neighbors, such as Frolic Weymouth, going back more than 20 years.
“The Wyeth family is closely connected to both Chadds Ford and coastal Maine, with long relationships with both of these institutions,” said J. Robinson West, the president of the foundation board of trustees. “This collections-management arrangement draws on the expertise of these two great museums in managing works of art, while underscoring the mission of the foundation to support scholarship and exhibitions of Wyeth’s work, now and into the future, both at these two museums and around the world.”
Under terms of the agreement, the Brandywine will be responsible for managing the collection and hiring a foundation-funded curator to supervise the holdings, conduct research, develop exhibitions, and make works available for loan to other institutions.
The foundation’s collection will be located jointly at the Brandywine and the Farnsworth Art Museum, and works will be on view in both museums’ galleries, on a rotating basis, throughout the year, officials said. Such an arrangement, they said, would ensure attentive maintenance of the art and enhance its public availability.
Thomas Padon, the Brandywine’s director, called the foundation’s gift “transformative.”
“We are thrilled by this generous and transformative gift that will greatly enhance Brandywine’s already extensive assemblage of landscape painting and American illustration, giving the museum the largest collection of art by N.C. Wyeth and very significant holdings of work by Howard Pyle,” Padon said in a statement.
(Last summer, the foundation bestowed a gift on the Farnsworth of 26 works by three generations of Wyeth family artists from Betsy Wyeth’s collection.)
Logan said the museum is preparing an annual budget that will cover all of the expenses associated with managing the collection.
“That will be everything from four staff people who will be dedicated to this, one of whom is the new curatorial position that we’re searching for now,” she said. “But it’s also the insurance and care of collection, conservation — all of the associated expenses that go into taking care of such a priceless collection.”
She said the annual budget, covered by the foundation, will be between $750,000 and $1 million.
Logan said that in all probability, the greatest impact of the collection-sharing agreement will be “through the exhibitions and programming that we’re able to do with kind of fresh perspectives and takes on Andrew Wyeth and his work and his life.”
As an example, she cited “several different installations highlighting some of the research that our museum director Tom Padon and our curatorial team have been undertaking in conjunction with a local historian.”
Perhaps most notably this effort produced a major exhibition a few years ago that explored Wyeth’s extensive work depicting his Black neighbors in the Chadds Ford area known as Little Africa.
Wyeth’s work, said Logan, “brought to light the stories of the African American community in Chadds Ford that lived around Mother Archie’s Church (that served Black churchgoers) because Wyeth’s works are the surviving documentation of their stories.”