Being TV addicts rather than art historians, we were unfamiliar with the work of American painter Andrew Wyeth before now. So Michael Palin’s visit to Maine, setting for Wyeth’s most famous painting, ‘Christina’s World’, comes as a welcome introduction to and overview of the artist, depicting as it does the subject, a paraplegic friend of Wyeth’s, as she sits in open grassland looking back at a farm. Despite its wide skies and open countryside, there’s a distinct sense of Christina being trapped – a prisoner in her world.
This intriguing introduction builds into a colourful portrait of a man who lived life to the full in a small Pennsylvanian town. It was here that Wyeth would live all his life, drawing on its landscapes, architecture and people to create muted, stark paintings that are truly memorable. And it’s here that Palin explores the world Wyeth inhabited, from tragedy to fatherhood and domestic life to a mysterious relationship with a woman, Helga Testorf, whom he painted obsessively and secretly for 15 years.
It’s a fascinating life and, containing as it does interviews with Helga, Andrew’s son and painter Jamie Wyeth, and Andrew himself before his death in 2009. A real treat – particularly if you’re as ignorant of Wyeth’s world as we were.