Haunting Paintings: “Wind from the Sea” by Andrew Wyeth

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I saw this painting today and became transfixed by it. The wind has brought the smell of the sea and the birds on the old and frail lace curtain have momentarily caught wind in their wings. I felt nostalgia, melancholia, a certain sweet longing, which the Greeks called pothos – “a yearning desire for a distant object.” In Senex and Puer, James Hillman defined pothos as the feeling that “drives the sailor-wanderer to quest for what cannot be fulfilled.”

I tried to find out what the story behind the painting was, though I was in two minds whether I really wanted to know. The critics point out that it was inspired by the death of Wyeth’s father in a tragic accident that happened a year before the painting was created. The same critics point out that the window overlooks the Wyeth family graveyard. Others point out that “Wind from the Sea” is intimately connected with “Christina’s World”- another painting by Wyeth which was created a year later and which shows the artist’s dear friend, a paraplegic, who used to crawl in the grass because this was the only way she was able to move about.

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Wyeth once said about his art: “It’s a moment that I’m after, a fleeting moment, but not a frozen moment.” I may have already said too much: explaining away a work of art destroys the feeling of pothos, freezing the fleetingness of the image. Pothos was the son of the rainbow goddess Iris and Zephyrus, god of the West Wind. Neither the wind nor the rainbow can be harvested for petrified samples, which would give away all their mysteries and hidden meanings.

Sources:

Christopher Benfrey, “Wyeth and the Pursuit of Strangeness” The New York Review of Books, June 19, 2014

James Hillman, Senex and Puer (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman 3)

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17 Responses to Haunting Paintings: “Wind from the Sea” by Andrew Wyeth

  1. beautiful images. Thank you for sharing.

  2. ptero9 says:

    It is quite moving Monika. It speaks to me of an opening to something invisible. You can hear it just by looking.

    Here’s to Pothos!

  3. What a wonderful painting (aide from the fact that I like Wyeth’s work) to align with pothos. I now have a new word to describe some of what I have sought/felt.Thank you for sharing this and your related perspectives, Monika.

  4. I love Wyeth’s work… the Brandywine Museum is a regular stop for me. 🙂

  5. I love haunting images and words. A beautiful presentation as always Monika~

  6. Don says:

    I found both these paintings to be so deeply moving, especially the last one. I looked at them yesterday and have kind of carried them around with me the whole of yesterday and this morning. I too have feelings about them that I don’t particularly want to attach explanations to, “Pothos” crystallizes it for me. Just to say, we live close to the sea and I have watched how in the dead of night a sudden sea breeze has come through our window lifting the lace curtain in a similar way to the painting, only ours doesn’t have birds on it. 🙂 I live for moments like these. So, Monika, thank you for the gift your post has been to me.

    • Actually, your sketches and other works you have been posting on your blog are very much close to this kind of sensitivity, aren’t they? I also live for moments like this – also for the moments when other souls, like yours, recognize what I am trying to say. Thank you.

  7. Your post reminded me of a conversation I had some years back with a friend of mine who is an artist. I was saying how I wished I could create art like him, and he wanted to play music like me. Then he said something that always stayed with me: “Artists capture energy, but musicians actually create energy.” Made me feel better about being able to play guitar and not being able to paint. 😉

  8. ArtsyGirl says:

    The story behind Wind From the Sea is quite well known. Andrew had been working on a different painting in an upper room at the Olson house. It was stifling hot and his paints were starting to dry out. He crossed the room and lifted the window to get some air in. When he did, the old lace curtains began to flutter in the wind. The pattern of birds in the lace looked to Andrew like they had come alive and were flying. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. He quickly grabbed one of the pencil studies that he had of Christina Olson and did a sketch of the window overtop of the drawing of Christina. That study with “Wind From the Sea” over the sketch of Christina was part of an exhibition in Washington DC in 2014. The exhibition examined Andrew’s paintings of doors and windows over his career and was called Looking Out, Looking In.

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