RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
One of America's best known artists died this morning. Andrew Wyeth was 91. He painted his neighbors and his surroundings, the landscapes of Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley and coastal Maine. Jim Duff is the director of the Brandywine River Museum. It's in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where Andrew Wyeth was born and lived for much of his life. Welcome to the program.
Mr. JAMES H. DUFF (Director, Brandywine River Museum): Thank you.
MONTAGNE: What tradition would you place Andrew Wyeth in? And how do you think he'll be remembered?
Mr. DUFF: He'll be placed by art historians in the strong tradition of American realist painting. But I would prefer to think of Andrew Wyeth as a representational artist. He often painted a house with a different number of windows every time he painted it, no matter how many dozens of times he painted it or drew it. He was a man who interpreted his surroundings.
MONTAGNE: He painted individuals as - well, women, in particular. He painted them over time. He would pick a model and really investigate what was there.
Mr. DUFF: That's absolutely true, women and men with whom he was very well acquainted, and he liked strong people. His exact word would have been "tough," tough people, people who knew their own strengths and their own limitations and lived their lives to the extent that they could in view of those limitations and those strengths.
MONTAGNE: Which gets us to his best known painting, "Christina's World," a woman crawling through a grassy field, apparently...
Mr. DUFF: Yes.
MONTAGNE: What, crippled by polio?
Mr. DUFF: Few people realize that Christina Olson was crippled and that that poignant picture is of Christine Olson attempting to, literally, drag herself across her farm back to her house.
MONTAGNE: Why do you think this particular painting is so caught the imagination of the public and also of those who know art as well as you? What in a sense makes it so remarkable?
Mr. DUFF: It is simply a compelling picture, isn't it? It speaks to all of those things that comprised Andrew Wyeth's life and his particular deep understanding of the human condition.
MONTAGNE: What do you say to critics who don't hold - or haven't held - Andrew Wyeth in such lofty regard? There are those who consider him more of an illustrator than an artist.
Mr. DUFF: I think they haven't looked deeply enough and they haven't looked long enough.
MONTAGNE: And they would see what, in your opinion?
Mr. DUFF: Extraordinary ability with pencil and pen and brush, and in egg tempera, his primary medium, and at the same time, perception of the human condition conveyed through the rendering of objects of intense personal importance to the artist that, despite the fact that they represent the people and objects he knew so intimately, have relevance to people around the world. Those objects become universal objects.
MONTAGNE: Just finally, you knew Andrew Wyeth for many years. How would you describe him?
Mr. DUFF: A very lively man intensely interested in life and people; an important friend to all who knew him, a raconteur, for sure, but a raconteur with a deep, abiding interest in all the people he met. It's a terrific loss. Sunday mornings sometimes he would come to my house and have a waffle, and I will miss that forever.
MONTAGNE: Oh, well, thank you for spending this time to talk to us about Andrew Wyeth.
Mr. DUFF: You're very welcome.
MONTAGNE: Jim Duff is director of the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which houses many paintings by the artist Andrew Wyeth, who died earlier today. He was 91 years old.
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