“Geraniums” by Andrew Wyeth is part of a gift to the Farnsworth Museum by the late Betsy Wyeth. Courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum

The Farnsworth Art Museum has received 27 pieces of artwork by three generations of Wyeths, including prominent paintings and drawings that never have been exhibited publicly, in what the director of the Rockland institution is calling “a transformational moment in our history.”

The gift is from the matriarch of the prominent North American art family, the late Betsy Wyeth, Andrew’s wife, who died last year at 98.

The gift, which brings the museum’s collection of Wyeth works to over 100, includes two major works by Andrew Wyeth painted at the Olson House in nearby Cushing, “Room after Room” and “Geraniums.” Others include “Islander” by Jamie Wyeth, one of his best-known Monhegan paintings, and a trio of paintings from N.C. Wyeth that capture midcoast fishing scenes in the 1920s and ’30s: “Fisherman’s Family,” “Cleaning Fish” and “The Harbor at Herring Gut.”

The museum, which plans to display the paintings in a major exhibition beginning May 15, did not disclose the value of the gifts.

“The Farnsworth is so fortunate to have the ongoing support of the Wyeth family and we are deeply grateful for this treasured gift to the museum’s collection,” Farnsworth Director Christopher J. Brownawell said in a statement. “Along with this stunning gift from Betsy, several other gifts were recently received, making this a transformational moment in our history. These exceptional works strengthen our museum’s already outstanding collection, elevating the Farnsworth to one of the great regional museums in the country.”

Three generations of Wyeths have painted in Maine for the past century, starting with N.C. Wyeth, who arrived on the midcoast in the 1920s. Andrew Wyeth became one of the country’s most beloved painters because of his work in Maine for decades, including his best known work, “Christina’s World,” painted at the Olson House in 1948. Andrew and Betsy’s son Jamie continues to paint in Maine.

The family also has deep ties to the Brandywine River valley of Pennsylvania and Delaware.

N.C. Wyeth’s “Fisherman’s Family” is now part of the collection of the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. Courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum

“The Farnsworth’s relationship with Andrew and Betsy goes back to 1944, four years before the museum opened its doors to the public,” Farnsworth Board President Gerry Isom said in a news release. “The museum purchased six works at that time, from a still relatively unknown Andrew Wyeth, as its collection was just taking shape. Betsy’s ongoing support of the Farnsworth was unwavering throughout her life, and we owe her an immense debt of gratitude.”

The recently acquired paintings will be part of the exhibition “Betsy’s Gift: The Works of N.C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth,” which will open May 15 and remain on view into March 2022. An accompanying exhibition, “Betsy Wyeth: Partner and Muse,” will feature Andrew Wyeth’s portraits of Betsy, including his 1966 painting, “Maga’s Daughter,” a tempera painting that will be shown in Maine for the first time. The title of the painting refers to the nickname Betsy Wyeth and her sisters sometimes used for their mother.

Christopher Crosman, the former director of the Farnsworth, has called the portrait “the American Mona Lisa.” The exhibition also will include several watercolors and drawings of Betsy that have never been shown in public.

Many of the pieces that are part of the gift have been seen in Maine before, but not collectively. N.C. Wyeth’s “Fisherman’s Family” – a large-scale oil painting, measuring nearly 6 feet across and 5 feet tall – was part of a Farnsworth exhibition a few years ago, and this time will be accompanied by a large study of the painting that was part of the gift. “I don’t recall the last time Jamie’s ‘Islander’ was on view,” said David Troup, the museum’s communications manager. “Many of the portraits of Betsy that are included in the complementary exhibition, and that are from the Wyeth collection, have remained private until now, and are being exhibited to the public for the first time.”

“The Islander” by Jamie Wyeth, an oil-on-canvas painting, measuring 33 inches by 44 inches. Courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum

Jamie Wyeth’s “The Islander” is a painting of wooly ram looking over the ocean from a high island perch. It was included in a retrospective of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in 2014.

Before Thursday’s announcement, the Farnsworth already had a large volume of paintings, works on paper and other items from three generations of Wyeths – approximately 17 watercolors and three paintings by Andrew Wyeth; a dozen paintings and seven works on paper by N.C., and six paintings and eight works on paper by Jamie. With the gift, it now owns a total of 47 works by Jamie, 28 works by N.C., and 38 works by Andrew Wyeth. Brownawell and Amy Morey of the Wyeth Study Center concurred the latest gift “is certainly the largest single gift of works by these three Wyeth artists in the Farnsworth’s history,” Troup said in an email.

Thursday’s announcement of the Wyeth gift and accompanying summer exhibitions is another signal the arts are returning, even as COVID-19 case numbers continue to rise in Maine and around the country. Although the Farnsworth has been open to visitors since it reopened after the first wave of the pandemic last spring, the museum has operated quietly since then, opening only its main building and drawing exhibitions from its collection. It also has operated with a timed-ticket admission policy, and that policy will continue, Troup said.

Other buildings, including the Wyeth Study Center, will be open this year, but the timed-ticket admission policy will remain in place, ensuring that audiences will be limited to public-health guidelines. “I can’t imagine that will change by the opening of the show in mid-May,” Troup said. “Our calendar for timed-tickets will permit people to schedule their reservation far in advance, and with Maine tourism expected to see some very good numbers this year, we would certainly recommend getting their tickets as far in advance as possible.”

In addition to the gift and its major summer exhibition, the museum laid out its full exhibition plans for the season.

“Women of Vision” will open Saturday and celebrate the contributions to Maine culture of 13 women: photographer Berenice Abbott, businesswoman Linda Bean, painter Katherine Bradford, philanthropist Edith Dixon, museum founder Lucy Farnsworth, photographer Cig Harvey, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, sculptor Louise Nevelson, philanthropist Elizabeth Noyce, basket maker and Passamaquoddy civic leader Molly Neptune Parker, women’s advocate and philanthropist Maurine Rothschild, arts and education champion Phyllis Wyeth – Jamie Wyeth’s late wife – and artist Marguerite Zorach.

“Room After Room” by Andrew Wyeth, a watercolor by measuring 22 inches by 29 inches. Courtesy of the Farnsworth Art Museum

On May 25, the museum will present “Robert Indiana: The Hartley Elegies” with 10 silkscreen prints. Indiana made these prints, along with 18 related paintings, at his home and studio on Vinalhaven between 1989 and 1994. He was inspired to create the series by American modernist and Maine native Marsden Hartley, with whom Indiana felt a spiritual connection. On June 12, the museum’s Wyeth Center will open “George Tice/Andrew Wyeth: Parallel Visions,” exploring the vision of each artist and their depictions of Maine.

In an interview, Brownawell said the museum is being both cautious and optimistic about the season ahead. It remains to be determined if the museum will create public events around the exhibitions, he said. “The hope is, as time progresses and medicine dictates, we will be able to welcome more folks,” he said. “We are taking a little wait-and-see approach when it comes to in-person engagement, until we can get a better sense from the experts as to when we can do stuff. But we are hopeful that at some point this summer or early fall we will be able to slowly begin to expand what we describe as our in-person events.”

He estimated attendance throughout the pandemic has been 20 to 25 percent of normal.

“It’s been an incredibly difficult year, and we are fortunate that we have a lot of generous donors who have helped,” Brownawell said. “Many individuals and foundations have stepped forward, recognizing the museum has worked hard and that we stayed open. They have supported us, otherwise it could have been a lot worse.”


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