Alexander Helwig Wyant


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Painter. Devoted to landscape, in early work he reflected prevailing Hudson River School standards but later, while retaining an affection for closely observed detail, preferred a richly worked, moody form of expression, more consonant with the growing taste for Barbizon-inspired work. His subtle color harmonies, controlled luminosity, and predilection for meditative understatement ally his mature style with tonalism. Throughout, his work suggests a melancholy subjectivity. Born in Evans Creek, Ohio, south of Cleveland, he soon moved across the state to Defiance, where he grew up. As a young man he began painting landscapes while working as a sign painter. After encountering George Inness's work in Cincinnati in 1857, Wyant soon visited New York to meet him and in 1860 returned there for a year of study. After additional preparation in Cincinnati, in 1863 he moved permanently to New York. Impressed by the hyperrealistic landscapes of Hans Friedrich Gude, a Norwegian painter associated with the Düsseldorf School, in 1865 Wyant journeyed to Karlsruhe to study with him but remained only a few months. While abroad, he completed his most important Hudson River-style work, the meticulously rendered Tennessee (formerly, Mohawk Valley; Metropolitan Museum, 1866), a large and somber panorama. After resettling in New York in 1867, he gradually began to assimilate more atmospheric and painterly tendencies into his realistic vocabulary, reflecting Inness's continued influence and the enthusiasm he had developed on a visit to London for John Constable's work. Fond of watercolor, he regularly exhibited works in this medium. An arduous 1873 journey through New Mexico and Arizona with a federal geological survey team precipitated a breakdown in his health. Incapacitated on his right side by a stroke, he trained himself to paint with his left hand. Although this practice may have contributed to the more generalized approach of his later work, finely detailed passages also occur. Drawn for summer visits from the mid-1870s to the Adirondack village of Keene Valley, after marriage in 1880 to a student, painter Arabella Locke Wyant (?–1919), he resided there much of the time through the subsequent decade. Although he continued to maintain a New York studio, from 1889 he resided chiefly in the Catskills art colony of Arkville, where his home overlooked the Delaware River. Restricted by increased paralysis during these final years, he painted intimate, evocative works commingling memory with observation. At his death in New York, he numbered among the most highly regarded landscapists of his day.

Subjects: Art.

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