"The beauty of Helga portraits lies in the harmony and exceptional trust that was there between the artist and his muse. Wyeth celebrated quietly being in Helga’s presence, watching her breathe, sit, sleep, exist. The ‘dazzling Prussian girl’, as the painter used to call his muse, regularly ‘barricaded herself’ in the secondary reality that was accessible only for her and the inspired artist. Place that felt like asylum and ‘run away’ from all that’s ordinary, usual and deprived of magic.
Astonishingly enough, the artist has never really intended to show his works publicly. This is what he confirmed during the only interview ‘on Helga Matter’ that he has ever had:
‘My intention was to keep ‘em hidden away until I died’, he says, ‘Then they could be revealed’.
In fact, over the span of 15 Wyeth created 240 artworks keeping it all secret and away from the public eye. As I learned from a little book written by Thomas Hoving, a former director of Metropolitan Museum of Art – the only person who has ever interviewed the artist on his controversial ‘artistic process’, Wyeth, believed that he could never have finished ‘The Helga Pictures’ without the public peering over his shoulder. Therefore, he did not reveal their existence to anyone, not even his wife, until the series was completed.
In my opinion Andrew Wyeth was a kind of artist who created either while in love, or did not create all. There was no other force on earth that could make him paint a masterpiece without having the heart engaged in the process. Similarly to Picasso – Wyeth couldn’t run away from the influence of Eros on his life.
As the artist explained during the interview with Hoving:
‘I knew right away that I wanted this relationship- if it worked- to be a secret. Because I didn’t want anyone to know that I have fallen deeply in love. (…) ‘The difference between me and a lot of painters is that I have to have a personal contact with my models. I don’t mean a sexual love, I mean real love. Many artists tell me they don’t even recall the names of their models. I have to fall in love with mine – hell, I do much the same with tree or a dog. I have to become enamored. Smitten. That’s what happened when I saw Helga walking up the Kuerner’s lane. She was this amazing, crushing blonde.’
Helga, on the other hand, turned out to be the this persistent, restless and most patient model that any artist could dream of. She understood the importance of her role, was discreet, deeply engaged with her whole being in the process of creation....
When the artist wife was asked what she thought of the relationship of her husband with the model, she replied, “All I see is love.”
There was also this rare, unique ‘mutual understanding’ that only real soulmates could achieve, something that made it all work:
‘If I’d see a good pose, something that enthralled me, I’d say “Stay there.”. And she would- for hours.(…) ‘I deliberately did Helga in all times of the year and weather. Outdoors and indoors. Helga says we lived outdoors – she joked that it was like living with Robin Hood’.
According to the artist – Helga Testorf was the only viewer and curator of Wyeths paintings for 15 years, before ‘the word got out and all hell broke loose.’
I found it truly fascinating to get an insight into the artist’s explanation how he felt about the entire collection:
‘Hey, they weren’t paintings to me, but attempts to discover something about this lady. They were a complex, mental process. The heart of Helga series was that I was trying to unlock my emotions in capturing her essence, in getting her humanity down onto a panel or two. The medium didn’t matter. I didn’t care if they were drawings, watercolors, drybrush hers, temperas. I didn’t sign them until they were all completed because that wasn’t what I was interested in.’
When I saw she wasn’t nervous any longer, I asked if I could make drawings of her without her blouse. She didn’t mind at all’
When you look at many paintings from the collection you could see how comfortable Helga felt with the role of a model. The peace and harmony that emanate from the paintings are moving and so convincing, even though we know she had to be a part of two worlds.
The highly insightful, sensitive ‘The Helga Pictures’ are considered Andre Wyeth’s most remarkable achievement. Those artworks create a testimony of trust, love and real intimacy between artist and his muse. The secret beauty of those artworks may lay in the deep affectionate feeling, masterfully translated it into a universal, visual language of art.
The collection is not only a fascinating journey into the painters heart and soul and his secret life. It is also a proof that – both for the creators and the admirers, the art could become the greatest escape. The daring adventure, ‘the necessary thing’, the place where anything is possible and where, just like in the song, ‘one could reveal life’s mystery.’"
female nude from behindwoman from behindnude femaletempera on panel