Looking back at Weymouth's love of the Brandywine region
By J. Chambless
'August' (1974, tempera on panel, Brandywine River Museum of Art, Gift of George A. Weymouth 1989).
By John Chambless
Known primarily as a philanthropist,
equestrian and longtime chairman of the Brandywine Conservancy and
Museum of Art, George “Frolic” Weymouth kept his artworks out of
the spotlight, for the most part, despite his position at the crux of
the Chester County art world.
“The Way Back: The Paintings of George A. Weymouth,” which opened at the museum on Jan. 27, is the first major retrospective for the artist, who passed away in 2016. The long line of friends and admirers who were in front of the museum before the doors opened for a reception on Jan. 26 showed just how widely connected and respected Weymouth was.
The exhibition is truly career-spanning, including Weymouth's first small painting, the shadowy “Chicken Fight,” done in 1948, when the artist was about 12 years old. It ends with his last work, a pencil portrait of Herbert V. Kohler, Jr., completed shortly before Weymouth's death in April 2016. In between are plenty of highlights – his well-known works, along with privately owned paintings and portraits, and Weymouth's incredibly detailed pencil sketches.
The 1959 temperas, “Charfoot” and “Field Sparrow,” share a contemplative mood and a muted palette. The large portrait of Eugene Eleuthere du Pont, done in 1958, emphasizes the sinuous curve of the walls and roof more than the man himself, but includes the telling detail of a frayed edge of the sitter's favorite wing chair.
A watercolor portrait, “Mr. Hilton Taylor,” done in 1962, has astonishing, just-right details that get to the essence of the sitter. Weymouth hits his stride with the quietly ominous “Gathering Storm” (1964), which speaks volumes in the sitter's lost-in-thought gaze and her crossed arms, subtly emphasizing the tumultuous year of civil rights struggle. That theme is echoed in “Eleven O'Clock News” (1966), which catches a man pausing as he is chopping wood, concentrating on the sound of a transistor radio relaying a news bulletin.
Weymouth's portraits focus on his friends and family members, and “Portrait of Anna B” (1965) shows Weymouth's then-wife in an unusual pose, her eyes closed and facing away from an antique table which holds a lighted candle. Anna is seen again in the charming watercolor “Our Crowd” (1967), sitting on a curve of beach, her attention focused on the book in her hands.
There is much of Andrew Wyeth's style in the winter landscapes “Thaw” and “Snow Drifts,” In “Study for Mrs. E. Miles Valentine” (1966), Weymouth explores the landscape behind the sitter with a thin wash of brown on the white paper. In the finished portrait, Valentine looks directly at the viewer. She is seated on a horse, which is suggested with only the reins and a small patch of its back. The sweep of winter landscape rises like ocean waves behind her.
Weymouth has a way with temperature extremes, seen in “Ice Shoes” (1996), a view of his home, Big Bend, in winter, with icy needles jutting from the roof and ice clinging to the trunks of the trees. And he expressively captures winter again in “Rogue Wave” (2010), in which wind-piled snow looks like an ocean wave against a barn wall.
The tempera “Corn Basket” (1965) is a rare still life, but the tempera glows with slanting light and soft shadows, elongated on the wooden table top.
If the public knows of Weymouth's work, it's probably through “The Way Back” (1963), a large tempera that shows his point of view as he drives a carriage back toward his home. There are two pencil studies with the work that show Weymouth's meticulous technique. The other Weymouth landmark is “August” (1974), his dazzlingly detailed tempera of a hillside near his home. The field of Queen Anne's lace, wildflowers and grass has every blade in place, and puts the viewer right into the scene. Take a moment to appreciate the pencil studies for this painting, and marvel at the level of precision Weymouth lavished on each stalk.
Weather is the dominant presence in “Storm” (2004), in which a prickly weed is made monumental by the low perspective, reaching into a bank of ominous gray clouds sweeping over the scene. A similar ground-level view is used in “The Crossing” (2009-10), in which the plant life is rendered microscopically and the sweep of storm clouds above is a gray-black mass. “Requiem” (2010) is a powerful view of a lightning-shattered tree trunk under a slate-gray sky, suggesting turmoil and dramatic passing, echoed in the death of Andrew Wyeth in 2009. The sprigs of life at the base of the tree, however, add a tiny note of hope.
“Swelter” (2011) is Weymouth's last tempera, and it's a tour-de-force of blazing yellow light, suggesting the crushing heat of a meadow in midsummer, again with the grasses rendered in nearly three-dimensional detail.
“Night Life” (2000) is a wall of interwoven flowers and vines under a moonlit sky, and it has a fine, brooding presence. The tempera “Before Mowing” (2009) is a monument to the wild, exqusite beauty of Queen Anne's lace and what might be called weeds, as they express their individuality in a burst of life before they are cut down.
The exhibition has a wonderful arc, bookending Weymouth's art but suggesting his deep love of both the land and the people who were special to him. It's fitting that he is getting a chance for his art to shine at the Brandywine, in the company of works by artists he admired so much.
The exhibition continues through June 3. Visit www.brandywinemuseum.org or call 610-388-2700 for more information.
To contact Staff Writer John
Chambless, email firstname.lastname@example.org.