The "Helga Pictures” by Andrew Wyeth are a fantastic compilation of tempera and dry brush paintings, watercolours and pencil studies secretly created within a span of over fifteen years. Andrew Wyeth created over two hundred and forty individual works of neighbor Helga Testorf from 1971 to 1985 without telling a single person, including his wife. He stated that he would not have been able to have finished the project with everyone looking at it. (Allen)
The large number of works and the palpable charge that runs through them suggested more than a simple artist-and-model relationship. The Helga chapter landed on the covers of Time and Newsweek as the public speculated over whether Wyeth, then 69, had had an affair with the woman 22 years his junior. As the Wyeths tried to explain the relationship, the art world wondered whether the secrecy and subsequent revelation had been staged simply to raise the popularity and price of the paintings. "It was a love affair with the burning love that I've always had toward the things I paint," Wyeth said of the Helga paintings. "If I don't have it, the painting goes ordinary, routine." (Nelson/Oliver) Stung by criticism over the "Helga hoopla," Wyeth denied there had ever been a sexual relationship, and his wife admitted that not all of the works had been kept secret from her. When critics accused the Wyeths, and Andrews, of being "hucksters," the artist verbally shrugged, saying critics "were just looking to bop me on the head." (Nelson/Oliver))
So who is Helga Testorf? She is a Prussian-born immigrant who was a caregiver to one of Wyeth’s neighbors, Karl Kuerner, near his home in rural Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania. She was 32 years old when Wyeth first met her in the early 1970s, and something about the blond beauty stirred the artist in a very profound way. They were merely acquaintances for a while until finally Wyeth asked her to pose. Helga had never posed before but was willing. (Museworthy) In 1986, when the...
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