American artist/icon Andrew Wyeth died early this morning at the age of 91.
Although he was best known for his paintings of human beings like Helga Testorf, Christina Olson, Anna Kuerner and Karl Kuerner, Wyeth also painted a significant number of dogs. Some of those dogs were his own: for example, a yellow Lab named Rattler appears in Wyeth's 1960's famous painting "Master Bedroom" (a print of which hangs here in my office) as well as "Distant Thunder," "The Ides of March," and "After the Chase." Another dog, Nell Gwyn, appears in several paintings Wyeth created in the 1970's.
But among Wyeth's canine muses, the most haunting may be Jack, the dog portrayed in Wyeth's late 1950's painting, "Raccoon." In that painting, a stoic-looking dog sits quietly while chained to a wall. To create the painting, Wyeth approached Jack the way he approached other subjects: he befriended the dog (with the owner's permission) and spent as much time with him as possible. Eventually, Wyeth bought the dog before he and his family left for their annual summer stay in Maine. The now-former owner agreed to keep Jack for the summer, with the understanding that Wyeth would pick up the dog in the fall when the family returned to their Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, homestead.
Unfortunately, Wyeth never got the chance to do that. The former owner killed Jack while the Wyeths were in Maine.
Years ago, I wanted to write an article about Wyeth and his canine muses. Alas, that was not to be: the Wyeths did not wish to participate in the project and would not give permission for any paintings to be reproduced in the article --and without the paintings, it wouldn't be much of a story (perhaps the same could be said for this blog post, but as the Blogger-in-Chief here, I don't much care).
If there is a place called Heaven, I hope Jack was there to greet Wyeth this morning.
Here is the Washington Post's obituary for Wyeth.