This painting is a portrait of Tom Clark, who was Andrew Wyeth’s neighbor in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Clark sits with his back to the viewer and gazes off in quiet contemplation. The items around Clark show the great care and consideration with which he lived his life. Shoes are placed behind him on a tabletop covered with parchment paper, and scissors have been hung carefully from nails in the wall. Wyeth greatly admired Clark once saying of him, “[h]is voice is gentle, his wit keen, and his wisdom enormous. He is not a character, but a very dignified gentleman who might otherwise have gone unrecorded.”
Andrew Wyeth was one of the most beloved and celebrated American painters of the twentieth century. He painted realistic images of everyday American life in the tradition of American artist Winslow Homer and European artists such as Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer.
That Gentleman was painted using tempera paints. Tempera paints are made by mixing powdered dry pigments with yellow egg yolk, thinned by water. This medium is most often associated with fifteenth-century Flemish painting.
Between the 1930s and 1950s tempera enjoyed a renewed popularity with American artists. Andrew Wyeth learned the technique from his brother-in-law, Peter Hurd. Wyeth claimed that the textures achieved in tempera held “a power of mysterious suggestion beyond representation,” and he reserved the medium for his most ambitious works.
Before painting That Gentleman, Andrew Wyeth made this preparatory sketch of Tom Clark.
Wyeth chose Tom Clark, a fellow resident of Chester County, Pennsylvania, as the model for That Gentleman. According to Wyeth, Clark was a quiet but dignified individual. Wyeth expressed his admiration for his model by saying: “Tom Clark went about the business of living in a very orderly way. He would prepare his vegetables with a deft grace, mend his clothes with care, lift the lid of a kettle seconds before it would boil over, keep his wood stove just the right temperature, place his slippers on a newspaper so as not to soil the table top. This tall, thin gentleman always referred to objects -- whether a potato, an annoying fly buzzing overhead, or a car passing by -- as ‘that gentleman.’”
Andrew Wyeth is the youngest son of artist and illustrator N.C. Wyeth. He learned art from his father, a painter who focused on images of American outdoor life and the American west. N.C. Wyeth designed covers for many popular magazines, including the Saturday Evening Post, Ladie’s Home Journal, Harper’s Monthly, and McClure’s.
Early in his career, Andrew Wyeth was interested in painting the landscapes of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania where he grew up. That Gentleman is a portrait of Tom Clark, who lived nearby to Wyeth in Pennsylvania. Later works featured neighbors as well, such as Christina Olson in Christina’s World, which was painted when Wyeth lived in Maine. Though Wyeth was primarily influenced by the paintings of the artist Winslow Homer, he was also influenced by the muted palettes and precision of European artists like Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer. Wyeth became famous for painting realistic images of life in America at a time when abstract and conceptual art were in vogue.
1. How would you describe the color palette of this painting? What effect might it have had if Wyeth had chosen brighter and more vibrant colors?
2. What do you see in the painting that shows Mr. Clark likes things to be orderly? What additional conclusions might we draw about Mr. Clark based on what we see in the painting?
3. Most traditional portraits are made with the subjects largely in the center of the composition, facing the viewer. Andrew Wyeth arranges this portrait quite differently. What choices does Wyeth make that break the rules of traditional portraits? Consider the composition, the crop, and the orientation of the sitter. Debate with your classmates the following discussion. Does That Gentleman tell us more or less about Tom Clark than a traditional portrait of Tom Clark might tell us?
4. Wyeth wrote that Tom Clark was a “dignified gentleman who might otherwise have gone unrecorded.” Wyeth chose to paint Mr. Clark, making a record of his existence for many to see. How does Wyeth present Mr. Clark as “dignified” in this painting?
5. On the far left side of the painting, Tom Clark’s shoes are sitting on the top of a table. What can these shoes tell you about Tom Clark? It has often been said that an important way of understanding someone is to walk a mile in his or her shoes. What does this phrase mean?
1. Compare and contrast this painting with the Preparatory Sketch for “That Gentleman,” which is also in the Dallas Museum of Art’s collection:
2. In That Gentleman, Tom Clark is painted from a unique, over-the-shoulder angle that is unusual to portrait painting. Consider how seeing people from different angles can tell you different things about them than you might notice with a frontal view. Find a partner and take turns looking at and sketching each other from different angles and perspectives. Choose one of the sketches and paint a portrait of your partner.
3. Search for “Andrew Wyeth” in Google Images or elsewhere on the internet to explore additional paintings created by the artist. Select and print twelve to fifteen images. Organize the works in smaller groups according to theme or commonalities, and write a label for each image. Include the title, the artist’s name, the date the artwork was made, and the materials used by the artist in your label. In the text portion of each label, encourage the viewer to look closely at the image in your brief, descriptive text. You might begin by pointing out defining or striking visual qualities of the work and then connect that to information that supports the viewer making sense of the artwork. Finally, create a small gallery in your classroom or hallway. Hang the images and invite others to experience the work of Andrew Wyeth.
4. Because of the way That Gentleman is cropped, one must imagine what the rest of Tom Clark’s room looks like. Create a diorama of the room where That Gentleman takes place. Consider Wyeth’s quote about Clark’s orderliness as you make your diorama. Consider how large you think the room is and how the rest of the room is decorated.
5. Imagine you are meeting Mr. Clark at his home in Chester County, Pennsylvania. Write a brief scene about the encounter. Consider some of the following questions:
a. What is the first thing you notice about Mr. Clark?
b. How would you describe Mr. Clark’s home?
c. How would you describe Mr. Clark’s clothing?
d. What questions will you ask Mr. Clark?
e. What advice will Mr. Clark have for you?
f. What will you say as you are leaving?
g. What are your thoughts as you leave Mr. Clark’s home?
An American Vision, Three Generations of Wyeth Art: N.C. Wyeth, Andrew Wyeth, James Wyeth. Boston, Mass.: Little, Brown, 1987.
Andrew Wyeth. Boston, Mass.: Museum of Fine Arts, 1970. Cat. no. 48, page 95.
Andrew Wyeth: Close Friends. Jackson, Miss.: Mississippi Museum of Art; Seattle : In association with University of Washington Press, 2001. Pages 4-5, 6, 117, 158.
Corn, Wanda M. The Art of Andrew Wyeth. Published for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by the New York Graphic Society, 1973. Page 51.
Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection. Dallas, 1997. Page 262.
This is the official website of Andrew Wyeth’s estate. It includes many images of his artwork.
On this website, there is an extensive biography of Andrew Wyeth.
View the MoMA collection for biographical information about Wyeth and to view Christina’s World.