Just a stone’s throw from a battlefield from the Revolutionary War is a grist mill from 1864 beside the river. The renovated mill is home to the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Inside this unassuming mill are treasures of American art. The museum serves as a perfect way to kick off a day in the Wilmington area before visiting the historic and luxurious HOTEL DU PONT for afternoon tea.
Currently, the museum is showing off an impressive retrospective on locally based and world renowned artist Andrew Wyeth. And that’s in addition to the Brandywine River Museum of Art’s remarkable collection.
Grist Mill Turned Art Museum
The original wood and stone portion of the building features an impressive and very modern steel and glass addition that overlooks the river. Inside those additions are large, open areas with a wall of windows, full of chairs and books about the museum’s collection. Occasionally, during the warm summer months you will see people float by on canoes and kayaks. It’s a lovely spot for outdoor adventures, I can tell you from experience. Those overlook areas are inviting and it’s worth a visit just to sit there and reflect.
The original details of the mill are seen throughout the galleries. Wooden beams hang overhead of stonewalls. It adds a character and a charm that is rare these days, especially in an art museum.
The museum has a strong collection of 19th and 20th century American art. The Wyeths, Howard Pyle, and Horace Pippin are just a few of the names on display. But through mid-September the star attraction at the museum is Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect.
Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect
To celebrate Andrew Wyeth’s 100th birthday, the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Seattle Art Museum have collaborated to organize a massive exhibition. Over 100 works by the often controversial painter span his entire career and take over the top two floors of the museum. Included are some of his most famous and popular works, often times depicting scenery just beyond the walls of the museum in southern Chester County, Pennsylvania. Wyeth’s realistic style is technically impressive and popular. But historically it has not always been well received by the critics.
Siri, Winter — nearly all of Wyeth’s most notable works that you want to see are on display as part of the exhibition. The works are executed with technical precision but lack, for me, a certain emotion. The works on display range from watercolors to tempera and from 1936 until 2008. Wyeth died in 2009 at the age of 91. Remarkably, his final paintings don’t betray his age at all.
N. C. Wyeth
Just beside the exhibit are galleries celebrating the rest of the Wyeth family. It is hard to think of a more talented or important American family in the arts. Andrew’s father, N. C., was an esteemed artist often recognized for his illustration. Seeing his book illustrations large scale, such as those from Treasure Island, were very impressive. For “mere” illustrations, N. C. has so much detail and personality in his paintings. Also on display are paintings that N. C. did for himself. While painting a mural of General George Washington in Trenton, New Jersey, N. C. suffered a fall from 30 feet up onto a marble floor. The accident left him with a reoccurring dream that inspired his 1930 painting In a Dream I Meet General Washington. N. C.’s style varies but is always full of personality and character.
Beside the paintings by N. C. are those by Jamie. Andrew’s son and N. C.’s grandson, Jamie has painted and continues to paint a wide ranging variety of topics. He has done some portraits that are inconceivably lifelike. Take his painting Portrait of Shorty, for example. The realistic details — Shorty’s lined face and a green upholstered chair — are what draw viewers in. And to think he was only 17 when he painted it! He’s painted Warhol and painted JFK posthumously with the assistance of Ted Kennedy as a stand-in.
A Very Talented Family
Elsewhere art by Andrew’s siblings and their spouses is showcased. It’s astonishing seeing so much talent from a single family in a single place, side by side. Each family member has their own style, despite being highly under the family influence. And it offers a deeper insight and context to the art and the Wyeth name.
Brandywine River Museum of Art’s Collection
While the Wyeth family is particularly dominating at the museum right now, there are many other works to see. Illustrations by Pyle, landscapes by various artists, a bronze by Thomas Eakins. And the art isn’t only indoors.
Brandywine River & Garden
Outside of the museum is also worth a visit. In addition to being along a wooded walking trail parallel to the river, there is a garden and several statues. The Brandywine River Museum of Art isn’t a sore thumb that sticks out. It is a fully integrated part of the landscape that blends in.
Perhaps this is because the museum was opened in 1971 by the Brandywine River Conservancy. The two organizations continue together to this day.
In addition to the actual museum, there are additional Wyeth related sites to visit. The museum owns the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio, the Andrew Wyeth Studio and the Kuerner Farm. The farm served as inspiration for many of Andrew’s works. Visitors who want to visit any or all of these sites must take a shuttle bus from the Brandywine River Museum of Art. There is also an additional fee to tour the sites.
The Brandywine River Museum of Art is in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, on the corner of Route 1 (Baltimore Pike). By car is the easiest way to get there. The museum has a large parking lot.
Thank you to the Greater Wilmington Convention & Visitors Bureau for hosting me! All opinions, as well as all photos, are my own.