Morgan Meis in The Easel:
The paintings are of simple things: drapes fluttering in the breeze, a young boy making his way down a hill and across a meadow, ten or fifteen leaves dying on the spindly branch of a tree in late autumn. These images are painted with care, often in tempera, sometimes in watercolor. The attention to detail and the focus on craft evokes some of the great masters of old. Albrecht Dürer comes to mind.
As in Dürer, a tuft of grass becomes the occasion for a display of skill so precise it verges on the ridiculous. Why would anyone in his right mind pay such close attention to the way a single brown stalk of wheat catches the light at the close of an autumn’s day?
The almost homely nature of Andrew Wyeth’s pictures, the studiousness with which they avoid big subject matter and big questions would seem to render them unobjectionable to the extreme. And yet, people have objected. They continue to object, sometimes mightily. From the middle of the 20th century—when Wyeth first started to get attention—to his death in 2009, these humble paintings have managed to piss people off. Important people.
So, we have a conundrum. How did a regional painter who lived in, and painted images of, rural Pennsylvania for his entire life (as well as his summer home in Cushing, Maine) become a lightning rod for art world controversy? Why get worked up over paintings that at face value are so very, very polite?