You have entered a Website dedicated to an American landscape painter, Alexander Helwig Wyant, NA (1836-1892). Welcome!
Wyant was productive from 1860 until 1892, when he died at the age of 56. He seldom wrote or spoke about his own work, its concepts, or its meaning. Wyant was very popular during his lifetime and for the next couple of decades. Since then, little scholarly or commercial interest has been shown in him. Individual examples of his work have appeared in public exhibitions only occasionally.
The commencement of Wyant's artistic career coincided with the onset of the Civil War. Most of the canals that crisscross the eastern United States already were built. Construction of transcontinental railroads, the opening of the West, and significant technological advancements that took place during the Victorian Era serve as backdrops to Wyant's time as an artist. The Hudson River School of landscape painting was in its waning years.
Broad shifts in philosophical thinking were taking place during this period marked by the publication in 1859 of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species." Darwin's evolutionary theories of natural selection and survival of the fittest were gaining momentum in intellectual circles and with the public at large. He brought attention to the highly volatile question whether human life is the result of divine creation or natural laws of evolution, a debate that has continued to this day.
Wyant, in his work as a landscape painter, lent support to the emerging philosophical shift. His landscapes often demonstrate the geological and botanical phenomena that help to shape and form actual landscapes everywhere, in contradistinction to prior assumptions that this was the result of divine discretion. Wyant's close observations of the scientific laws of nature, particularly in locations associated with moving water, produced notable changes in the selection, arrangement, and manner of presentation of natural objects in a landscape painting.
In his work, Wyant reversed traditional custom by subjugating human themes in order to accord dignity, character, identity, and preeminence to natural objects. There are elements of a human presence in most of Wyant's works but they are of secondary importance. His alignment with Darwinian concepts as applied to botany and geology, whether or not intentional, left him non-aligned with the conceptual underpinnings of transcendental artists of the Hudson River School. His canvases record the behavior of natural objects according to natural laws in unpicturesque locations where that behavior is most evident. Scientific interests often dictated Wyant's choices of scene and composition.
Yet, Wyant did not reject all characteristics of traditional landscape painting. In early works, he accepted the picturesque (including the vista) as valuable. Wyant often located trees in conventional positions as framing devices but more for balance than to lead the eye to a distance object. Sometimes trees are positioned as the central objects in a scene. In many works, Wyant adhered to standard compositional designs but his focus remained in the foreground. He edited his mature works carefully but did not stay tightly bound to traditional rules.
In his later years, Wyant left beaten paths on courageous forays that are often difficult to appreciate and at times can be unsatisfying. Wyant is more than he appears to be, and the journey to understanding is an interesting one.
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This Site has multiple objectives and is unfinished. It presents photographic images of known paintings and drawings by the artist along with the type of information typically found in a catalogue raisonne. It organizes works for critical comparison. It also provides opinions concerning authenticity, at no charge. The Site intends to add new works as images are acquired or released for publication. Privacy of ownership will be respected whenever requested.
The Site thus far has identified approximately 570 works most of which are viewable on the Site. To do so, it has relied upon the generous cooperation of private collectors, dealers, auction houses, and art institutions. Much credit and gratitude is due to all image providers and in particular to Sotheby's, Inc., Christie's, Inc., Vose Galleries, LLC, Boston, Kennedy Galleries, New York, and Thomas Colville Fine Art, LLC, each of whom provided dozens of images of works not seen in years or even decades and many of which are currently unlocated.
The Site continues to seek images of new works, as well as improved images of works currently known, and will be contacting potential sources in the months ahead. Color images are especially sought.
The Site is dynamic. New or replacement images are easily incorporated and information errors can easily be corrected. Anyone who may have a photograph of a painting by this artist is urged to send it to the Site together with associated provenance. Hopefully, hundreds of new works eventually will be added to the Site's current inventory. Thank you in advance for your new works contributions. Anthony E. Battelle, Site originator.