DuPonts and Wyeths Lived Here

The Brandywine Valley gave rise to two 20th-century dynasties: one aristocratic and one artistic. Their homes can tell you stories.

BRANDYWINE RIVER MUSEUM OF ART

N.C. Wyeth’s studio. Photo by Amy Brecount White

Happily, the fountain’s spring-into-summerlong unveiling coincides with a retrospective show just down the road at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in honor of what would have been Andrew Wyeth’s centennial birthday.

Around the same time the du Ponts were busy building and expanding their grand châteaus (including nearby Nemours, which some have called “America’s Versailles”), N.C. Wyeth, illustrator of Robert Louis Stevenson classics such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped, purchased a home in the same valley. He and his wife had five children, three of whom—Andrew, Henriette and Carolyn—would become painters, as would Andrew’s son Jamie.

Wyeth works figure prominently in the museum’s collection. Housed in a refurbished 19th-century mill, the building synthesizes the original stones and dark wood with modern, gleaming glass walls that overlook the Brandywine River, prompting visitors to contemplate the landscape outside while admiring painted interpretations of it.

As geography and lineage would have it, there is a connection between the Wyeths and the du Ponts. The museum traces its origins back to George A. “Frolic” Weymouth (his mother was a du Pont), a driving force in the formation of the Brandywine Conservancy in the late 1960s. The conservancy rescued the old mill and protected its surrounding lands—namely the agrarian landscapes that had inspired many a Wyeth painting—from developers. The museum and conservancy now occupy 15 acres and include a creekside trail with native plantings.

Andrew Wyeth’s studio. Photo by Amy Brecount White

Andrew, who was known to locals as “Andy,” didn’t have millions to manifest his vision, but he did have the luxury of time. He often worked in egg tempera, an ancient medium made with dry pigments mixed with egg yolk and distilled water. Painstaking layering allowed him to produce rich landscapes with warm and varied surfaces.

During a visit in late March, I take advantage of the shuttle-bus tour of the Wyeths’ homes and studios (now part of the museum collection) as well as the nearby Kuerner Farm, which Andy found endlessly fascinating and immortalized in many of his masterpieces.

Fans of the Wyeth legacy will appreciate the charming family photos, original furniture and Wyeth artwork that fill the crowded homestead where Andy and his siblings grew up. Just steps up the hill, with a huge Palladian window and good north light, is N.C.’s studio, where the patriarch worked from 1911 to 1973. Aficionados will recognize familiar props such as the tricorn hat and glassware that appear in some of his paintings.

Stepping into Andy’s modest workspace, which he occupied from 1940 until 2008, I almost expect to find the artist at his easel. His brushes remain at the ready on a palette, while various sketches and studies are tacked to the walls and scattered across the wooden floorboards. It still looks like a working studio.

Afterward, I spend a few hours admiring all generations of Wyeth art in the museum before making my way down the road into Delaware to tour yet another du Pont site, Winterthur.

Categories: Travel