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A remarkable art collection surfaces for West Chester exhibit

Chester County Art AssociationOctober 10, 2015 | Malcolm Johnstone

West Chester PA -- It is rare that a collection of art from a preeminent American artist such as N.C. Wyeth (1882–1945) is given its own exhibit after decades of lingering in, of all places, a school cafeteria, and even more rare that the exhibit is happening in West Chester.

Indeed, this collection could just as easily have its own gallery in a big city museum.

But the most remarkable part is that Wyeth's sixteen works (an additional painting was lost in a fire) are still together as one collection (on loan from The Hill School in Pottstown). This is because Wyeth insisted that the collection never be broken up and sold separately.

The exhibit, now open through October 18 at the Chester County Art Association, has found a fitting place since Wyeth was among the founders of the arts association in 1931. In fact, the exhibit is entitled Founders Exhibition recognizing the contributions of Wyeth and others who helped establish the Brandywine Tradition of painting. The exhibit is displayed in the newly renovated Allinson Gallery and is the perfect setting for the art.

Commissioned in 1922 as illustrations for a book of American poetry, there is a stunning quality as one observes that each of the paintings are identical in size and medium and were created at a specific point in time in the artist's life. Yet the breadth of expression allow each work to stand alone as a masterpiece--and together, as a tour de force.

While it may be easy to categorize the particular style of Wyeth's American realism as perhaps sentimental, there are moments within the paintings of stark reality: the disfiguring facial wound of a dead soldier in John Burne of Gettysburg or the battle-weary stares of soldiers standing in a Valley Forge snow storm in George Washington Reviewing His Troops.

The most popular painting is assuredly The Giant on loan from Westtown School. Here it is displayed looming over the gallery space and well worth the admission to see Wyeth's famous work in its original size.

My favorite is O Captain! My Captain! where the body of Abraham Lincoln lies in state accompanied by a lone, anonymous mourner. Above that dim scene are the many flags of the United States billowing like the Grand Tetons awash in the morning sun. The contrast transcends any other attempt to capture both the sorrow and gratitude the nation felt at the time.

The exhibit is open for only a brief period, but it's well worth taking the effort to see it.
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Founders Exhibition, featuring works by N.C. Wyeth
Chester County Art Association
100 N Bradford Ave, West Chester PA 19380
Through October 18, 2015 | Open daily: 9am-8pm; Sunday: 11am-8pm | free parking
Tickets required; call 610-696-3648


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