Artist Andrew Wyeth dies at 91

Andrew Wyeth’s fame rests on his paintings of the people and places of New England.

But for the past 30 years, he also had an important place in South Carolina.

Wyeth, one of the world’s most famous artists, died Friday at his home in Chadds Ford, Pa., at age 91.

Starting in 1978, the Greenville County Museum of Art was home to a collection of Wyeth paintings owned by Arthur and Holly Magill. But in 1990 the Magills suddenly sold all the works and they were taken from the museum with one day’s notice.

After hosting several temporary Wyeth shows, the museum raised $7 million to purchase 23 watercolor paintings in 1998. Since then it has added to the collection, including buying, for $85,000, one of four artworks a young Wyeth did while vacationing near Georgetown, S.C.

The Greenville County Museum of Art is one of only three museums in the nation that has a large collection of Wyeth’s work.

Museum employees met Wyeth but didn’t have much direct contact with him, curator Martha Severens said.The artist, son of illustrator N.C. Wyeth, had his first exhibition at 16 and sold out his first show at 20. It was shortly after that show that he was invited by a wealthy collector to visit a hunting plantation on coastal South Carolina. The works he made there are his only known Southern scenes.

Wyeth’s most famous work is “Christina’s World,” which is owned by the Museum of Modern Art. It shows a young woman, her back to the viewer, lying in a field and looking up at a house.

In 1986 Wyeth was thrust into the limelight when Time magazine published images of what became known as “the Helga pictures,” done between 1970 and 1984, of a young woman often depicted in the nude.

“We took a group of our high-level donors (to one of his homes) and by pre-arrangement he and Helga met us,” Severens said.

Some museum employees also attended the opening of the Farnsworth Museum and Wyeth Study Center in Rockland, Maine.

“Helga was there and so was Katie Couric,” Severens recalled.

And Wyeth gave Severens a kiss.

The museum has continued to add to its Wyeth collection. In 2001 it paid $1.5 million for the 1957 work “Hay Ledge.” It had been part of the collection that was sold in 1990. The museum’s most recent Wyeth purchase, the watercolor “Eagle Quill,” was made late last year.