Last week at Leland Little Auctions, Victoria Browning Wyeth, the only grandchild of acclaimed painter Andrew Wyeth, shared a bit of her late grandfather, whom she calls her “favorite person,” with the Hillsborough community. Ahead of the auction of several important Andrew Wyeth paintings on Friday, Victoria Wyeth delivered a deeply personal lecture on the life and works of her influential grandfather to a full house.
“[People] say the common thread is I make him come to life,” Victoria said. "Not the paintings— him. They just feel like he’s alive. And that they liked him before, but now they feel that they understand him and have a greater appreciation for him.”
Andrew Wyeth, a native of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, achieved worldwide acclaim for his paintings, depicting the rural landscapes and inhabitants of Pennsylvania and Maine. Leland Little, president of Leland Little Auctions, said that it was a “privilege to handle great American and international works” like the Wyeth pieces. Little said the lecture by Victoria Wyeth was part of an effort by the auction house to engage the community not just through sales of art, “but also through an academic, curated level.”
With a passion recalling that of the artist himself, Victoria Wyeth’s lectures have earned her national attention as an expert on the Wyeth family portfolio. She related insights on Andrew Wyeth’s work that come from a lifetime of personal interviews about his art. Victoria has lectured on Andrew Wyeth’s work in prisons, schools, and museums across the country, even bringing original paintings to incarcerated men and women who could not otherwise view his art in person.
“Small town, big town, I don’t care if I’m lecturing to five people or five thousand, I’ll do the same lecture with the same amount of enthusiasm, nothing changes,” Victoria said.
Other artists in the prolific Wyeth family include patriarch and famed illustrator N.C. Wyeth, and contemporary painter Jamie Wyeth, one of Andrew’s sons. The Andrew Wyeth’s paintings are like a “family photo album” for Victoria, including the subjects he most frequently painted, whom she thinks of as close friends.
Wyeth often painted subjects who were “physically or emotionally hurting,” Victoria said. The subjects also became indispensable parts of Wyeth himself. One of his most frequently depicted models, a German woman named Helga Testorf, was featured in many of the works for sale at Leland Little Auctions on Friday. The Helga studies fetched from $11,000 to $57,000 from remote and in-house bidders.
While the lecture filled the auction house on Wednesday, an additional 40-50 people attended the auction itself on Friday. An original Andrew Wyeth painting entitled Breakup, paired with a bronze cast of the artist’s hands, sold for $410,000. Leland Little said that attention to the sale was “strong,” bringing hundreds of bidders online and over the phone. Also on sale were works by artists Salvador Dali and Rembrandt van Rijn, bringing additional interest to the auction from collectors and non-bidders alike.
While the Wyeth artworks went on to their new owners after the auction, the history of the work remains alive as Victoria continues to share her famous grandfather with the world, while rightfully maintaining the title of “his number one fan.”