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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Place, Space, and Practice of Andrew Wyeth's Hay Ledge

  • Author(s): Harvey, Edwin Rein
  • Advisor(s): Lovell, Margaretta M
  • et al.

The works of the American painter Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) have for many decades been subjects of contentious debate among historians and critics of art. The great majority of these scholars have tacitly agreed, however, that Wyeth's works are simple matters--that be they good or bad, "artistic" or "illustrative," innovative or apish, "modern" or "traditional," they are obviously or self-evidently so. Such beliefs are implied, at least, by the practice of withholding from publication the concrete observations about individual works upon which broad, totalizing claims about Wyeth and his practice have been reached.

Intending to correct this mistaken belief about the simplicity and uniformity of Wyeth's work, this dissertation enacts a sustained encounter with a single painting—Hay Ledge (1957)—working at length over the course of three close-knit chapters to demonstrate 1) the formal, conceptual, and sentimental depth of this particular work, 2) the fact that Wyeth's art practice changed over time, and 3) the complexity of the cultural contexts to which that practice responded and in which Wyeth's works in general, and Hay Ledge specifically, have been received and appraised. It thereby begins to bring Wyeth's practice into a more stable, balanced light, thus enabling scholars of art and culture more broadly to reconsider an historically significant phenomenon that they might previously have found too opaque or too polarizing to engage.

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