At the Brandywine River Museum, you have a choice. You can look at the stunning pastoral vistas depicted in the paintings of various American masters. Or you can step outside and take in some of the stunning pastoral vistas yourself. Or you can do both.
The museum, which is in Chadds Ford, Pa., right outside Wilmington, Del., is in a renovated 19th-century gristmill overlooking the river. Full floor-to-ceiling windows provide an expansive view of the water below and the fields beyond. The building is surrounded by native trees, shrubs and wildflowers, which were planted by the Brandywine Conservancy, the environmental organization that runs the museum. The museum was established in 1971 to conserve the local landscape from encroaching development and provide a space to display art related to the region.
Since the 19th century, artists like illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911) and landscape painter William Trost Richards (1833-1905) have been attracted to the beauty of the region. Their works, as well as those of many other American illustrators and painters who lived and worked in the region, are on view at the museum. The collection also includes works by three generations of the Wyeth family: N.C. Wyeth; N.C.'s son, Andrew Wyeth; his sisters, Henriette and Carolyn, and their husbands, Peter Hurd and John W. McCoy; and Andrew's son, Jamie.
In 1902, N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) first came to the area to study at the art school established by Pyle in Chadds Ford. He stayed on, raising his family in a house and painting in a studio about a mile from the main museum building. The elder Wyeth is best known for his illustrations of such children's classics as Treasure Island and The Last of the Mohicans. But he also painted landscapes, portraits and still lifes, all of which are on display. His son and daughters, their husbands and his grandson all followed his lead, becoming respected painters.
You can take a tour of N.C. Wyeth's house and studio for an additional fee; buses leave from the main building. The house and studio are preserved to look just as they did in 1945, the year N.C. died. With its floor-to-ceiling, north-facing windows, the studio is a painter's dream. Objects are set up to look as if N.C. has just left. The palette that he used on the day of his death sits by his last canvas. The prop room is filled with items like chaps, saddles and cowboy hats that he used to create his illustrations.
N.C. taught Henriette, Carolyn and Andrew to paint here in the studio. Andrew, who is probably the most famous member of the family, is known for his paintings of places and people around Chadds Ford and Cushing, Maine, where he has a summer home. He primarily works in egg tempera and watercolor, often using a technique called dry brush, in which all of the water is squeezed out. Andrew still lives and works in the area, though he keeps a low profile.
Andrew painted many of his best-known works at the Kuerner Farm, which is about a mile from the Wyeth house and the main museum building. Tours of the farm leave from the main building. The tour includes visits to spots where Andrew painted and insights into how he interpreted what he saw there.
Each of the tours takes about an hour; children under age 6 are not allowed.
Besides the Wyeths, the museum focuses on 19th- and 20th-century American illustration and landscape, tromp l'oeil, still life and genre painting. On display are works by 19th-century landscape painters Edward Moran, Jasper Cropsey and Thomas Doughty, who came to the region to paint. Along with Richards, they were members of the Hudson River School, painters who primarily worked in New York's Hudson River Valley and were dedicated to capturing the transcendent beauty of nature on canvas.
The heritage of American illustration established by Pyle is represented in the museum's large collection of works by artists ranging from Winslow Homer and Frederic Remington to Al Hirschfeld and Edward Gorey. Still-life painters such as William Michael Harnett and genre painters like Horace Pippin, who lived and worked in the region, are also shown.
The museum's cafe serves sandwiches, soups, salads, snacks and coffee in a sun-filled room overlooking the river. Then take a walk along the riverside path behind the museum where whimsical statues of a pig and a cow beckon you to sit down and enjoy the day.
The Brandywine River Museum is at U.S. 1 and Pennsylvania 100 in Chadds Ford, Pa. Call 610-388-2700 or visit www.bran dywinemuseum.org. Hours are 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. The N.C. Wyeth house and studio tours and Kuerner Farm tours are available April through November. The museum restaurant is open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. daily and closed Monday and Tuesday January through March. Admission is $8 for adults, $5 for senior citizens, students with ID and children 6-12 and free for children under 6 and members. Tours are an additional $5; children under 6 are not permitted on the tours.
From Baltimore, follow Interstate 95 north into Delaware. Take Route 141 north to Route 52 north. Follow to U.S. 1. Turn right and stay on Route 1 for about three miles. The Brandywine River Museum is on the right.
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