“The Way Back” Explores the Paintings of George A. Weymouth
The Brandywine River Museum of Art’s new exhibit opens on Jan. 27.
George A. Weymouth once said, “I don’t think you can choose to paint; you paint because you have to.”
Weymouth was encouraged to paint by his mother, Dulcinea du Pont Weymouth, who’d trained at the Art Students League in New York. She coaxed his talent, took him to museums and bought him art books. “There never was a time when I was not drawing or painting,” Weymouth recalled.
He learned by observing and knowing the area’s artists. Weymouth studied Howard Pyle paintings closely. He knew that Pyle was, in a sense, the father of the Brandywine school of painting. He learned that an artist must have a deep connection with his subject. Andrew Wyeth, his mentor and lifelong friend, taught him to appreciate the scenery and people of the region. This heightened his awareness of the people, places and animals he loved and contributed to some of Weymouth’s most successful portraits and landscapes.
Weymouth—“Frolic” to everyone who knew him— was also a visionary conservationist, a philanthropist, an accomplished equestrian and an expert four-in-hand carriage driver. In 1967, when he and two friends purchased 47 acres of land in Chadds Ford that was threatened with industrial development, Weymouth set aside his successful art career for a few years to shepherd the development of the Brandywine Conservancy.
Putting his “money where his mouth was,” in 1969, he eased his own estate, The Big Bend, to the conservancy —its first conservation easement. It was to become the Brandywine Conservancy & Museum of Art, where he served as board chairman for nearly five decades.
In the years preceding his death, Weymouth began the daunting task of locating and organizing his drawings and paintings, with thoughts of writing a book. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Weymouth, Brandywine River Museum of Art director Thomas Padon was working on an idea to mount a retrospective of his work and publish an exhibition catalogue.
When presented with the idea, Weymouth—always humble about his talent—agreed to the exhibition if his longtime friend Joe Rishel could curate it. Rishel is a preeminent scholar and distinguished former curator of European paintings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Opening January 27, the exhibition will be the first comprehensive one of Weymouth’s art career, delving into his contributions to American painting. The lead image for the show is the iconic 1963 tempera “The Way Back.” It’s both a self-portrait and a portrait of Weymouth’s cherished home, The Big Bend. The painting captures Weymouth’s hands holding the reins of a horse as his carriage gently clip-clops toward the front door.
First, there was Joe Rishel’s outside influence. Then, museum staff members offered their expertise to this labor of love. Virginia O’Hara shared knowledge of Weymouth’s painting that was “invaluable,” says Padon. Gail Stanislow, former manager of the museum’s Walter and Leonore Annenberg Research Center, devoted many hours to creating a thorough chronology of Weymouth’s life. Padon wrote an introduction to the catalog, and Joe Rishel contributed an essay.
Padon and O’Hara (then the curator of Collections and Curator of Cultural Affairs) pored over early works and photographs of paintings in galleries and private collections in the United States and Great Britain. Actually seeing the breadth of Weymouth’s work was “overwhelming” and “exhilarating,” Padon says.
Adds Rishel, “We all had our favorites, and there were so many we wanted to include. But we had to cut back.”
The trio eventually narrowed their selections to about 65 of Weymouth’s finest works—landscapes, portrait heads and full-figure portraits in oil, tempera and watercolor—for the exhibition. Frolic was like “a force of nature,” says Jamie Wyeth. “Not only did he create the Brandywine River Museum of Art, at the very same time he was creating a remarkable body of his own unique art.”
Padon praises Annette Blaugrund for the perspective she offers in her catalogue essay. The former director of the National Academy of Design in New York City, Blaugrund specializes in American art. In her essay, she considers Weymouth’s connection to the Brandywine tradition while reflecting on the artist in the broader context of 20th-century art. She observes that “his candid love of the people and the region in which he lived is conveyed in his work.”
Blaugrund also notes in her essay that Weymouth was “old school” and continued to paint on canvas, paper or board. “His elegant, distinctive, intuitive paintings not only resonate with his personal history, his cultural milieu and his sense of place, but they also preserve and maintain the realist legacy of the Brandywine Valley artists for the 21st century and beyond,” she concludes.
Rishel believes British royalty like Prince Philip and famous figures like Luciano Pavarotti sat for him because, “the subjects respected him and responded to
the enthusiasm he had for his work.”
Padon emphasizes the significance of major art publisher Rizzoli/Skira handling the fully illustrated exhibition catalogue and Eileen Boxer, one of the United States’ leading graphic designers, creating the stunning layout. “It is very meaningful for me to do this project at this level,” says Padon. “I think Frolic and his artistic career deserve it.”
Frolic loved life. According to his April 26, 2016, New York Times obituary, “his childhood nickname perfectly embodied the joy with which he lived his life and his irrepressible sense of humor.” In 1995, he dedicated a newly constructed chapel on his property to God, thanking Him for a wonderful life filled with fun, humor, work, sport and beauty.
Weymouth’s awareness and appreciation of these elements are discernible in each of the paintings presented in The Way Back: The Paintings of George A. Weymouth. The exhibition continues through June 3, 2018. Leadership gifts from Anson and Debra Beard Jr., Richard and Sheila Sanford, Mac and Toni Weymouth, and Phyllis and Jamie Wyeth supported this ambitious exhibition.