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MR James and Andrew Wyeth; what do they have in common?


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No, it's not a trick question because I am going to give you the answer![:)]

Indeed what could be the link between an English writer of ghost stories and an American artist?

Well, there were two, separate, programmes on the BBC, in recent days about them and the programmes stood out amongst the BBC's more than dismal offerings this holiday season.  Yes, you know EXACTLY what I mean, endless repeats, ghastly "compilations" of clips from old programmes with a known and loved "personality" (Penelope Keith for one) acting as "anchor", films from the archives (yes, as old as the Ark) and quizz and games programmes that truly plumbed the depths.

So, back to MR James and Andrew Wyeth.  One was your quintessential English gentleman (that is quintessential for his period), Eton, Cambridge, academic who yet broke the rules and the "mould" and wrote marvellous ghost stories, many of which were transferred to the small screen by the BBC and whose stories I have enjoyed for years without knowing anything about the author.

What do you know, he was quite a classicist, having done some seminal work whilst still an undergraduate on medieval illuminated scripts! Andrew Wyeth, also an "aristocrat" by American standards, was an artist who also did not follow a conventional path.  He, too, whilst being a massive commercial success, nevertheless painted, alongside the commercially lucrative stuff, some 300 paintings of a woman who wasn't even his lover (so it's said) and which are completely enchanting.

The other thing is, of course, that they both produced works that appeal to the imagination, are crafted by scholarship and superb mastery of their genre, and will, IMHO (!) stand the test of time.

I was intrigued, fascinated, educated, informed by the BBC programmes and that's a very rare thing with the BBC these days.

Of the two, it was Wyeth that I knew nothing about so, for me, that was the more illuminating programme of the two.  Don 't misunderstand, I love the whole look and feel of the MR James programme, especially the sequences shot in diverse and beautiful locations.

As for Wyeth, I couldn't believe that I had zilch knowledge of an artist of such standing.  He is often compared to Edward Hopper, with reason.  Both portray,  atmosphere (often loneliness), landscape, interiors, everyday life.  Now I have seen many Hoppers and indeed made a special trip to Tate Modern a year or so before moving to France, to see a Hopper exhibition.

Having seen the Wyeths, albeit only on TV, I think he is much the better artist, at least on a technical level and he is, to my mind, just as adept at portrayal of all the things that Hopper is famous for.  I especially love the Vermeer feel to his interiors. And, now, having lived in France, I see many "French" aspects to his paintings:  the vast tracts of land with barely a habitation in sight, the derelict farms, the basic level of living of the farmers, the ever-changing light, feel, ambiance of the rural landscape.

Sheer enjoyment...now, I know very little, in fact, next to nothing at all, about paintings and I am hoping that others will have watched and have their own comments.  Betty, if you are out there, I expect you will have your views on this as you are more knowledgeable about paintings than I could ever be. 

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