Andrew Wyeth “Night Nurse”

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Andrew Wyeth, born in 1917, was one of America’s best known and most popular visual artists from the mid-20th century. Wyeth’s painting, Night Nurse, was made in 1995 after his other famous works such as Christina’s World, 1948, and Braids, 1979.

Wyeth’s Night Nurse is now being displayed at the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock. When the viewer first walks into the Masterworks section of the Arkansas Art Center, Night Nurse is the first painting they will see. It is displayed at eye level and the spectators are capable of viewing it as the artist intended but only on one side.

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After Wyeth’s father’s death in 1945, he began to paint watercolor and tempera landscapes and mixed his own pigments to create his distinctive subdued palette. His portraits are almost photographic in their degree of realism. Wyeth’s Night Nurse is egg tempera on panel painting and is 18 in. x 23 7/8 in. Andrew Wyeth’s Night Nurse displays a blonde girl in a white dress, her back to the viewer, walking away from a dark house in what appears to be a fog. The painting also shows a white wooden chair and a white fence on the porch that stands out immediately in contrast to the house’s dark wooden walls.

It is said that the female nurse in the painting is Pam Cowe. She posed several times for Wyeth mostly during his hip replacement surgery. The idea for Night Nurse started when he saw Pam running out of the house in Maine to smoke a cigarette. The uses of dark and light colors dominate the entire painting. Her white dress, white chair, and white fence all seemed to be connected. They also seem to be abstracted with the dark house, dark forest, and foggy weather in which the woman is headed towards. When looking at the painting the first thing one would notice is the opaque and muted tone.

There is no color other than white and no natural organic shapes other than the organic lines of the chairs, fence, knobs, and dress on the girl. It seems that the only natural pieces are the ones that are painted white, which makes Wyeth’s painting even more unique. There are many straight lines in this painting and since it also has many geometric shapes the few organic lines really stand out. The value scale is in gray, which uses a range in shades of lights and darks. This piece has a very strong grey opaque effect which helps give a sense of fog in the ackground from simply laying down a light value of the one hue.

The contrast from black and white values makes the few objects in the painting, such as the chair, girl, and fence, really stand out from the rest of the piece which is dark and foggy. The girls dress shows a perception of a soft cloth, but everything else in this artwork is very flat and depicts a very flat texture. The texture for the forest in the background suggests a foggy type of climate by how thin the tempera was applied. The large dark building, the wooden floor, and the fence have repetitive lines which produce the idea of wooden logs.

When discussing linear perspective, the painting shows a vanishing point leading from the fence and the picture plane shows a painted image as if it was receding from the distance. Wyeth’s painting also shows that the girl in this piece is in motion as one of her feet appear to be up off the ground as if she was about to take another step. With this effect, it gives the sense of time and motion from the illusion of her foot. There are many different elements that play a key role in Wyeth’s painting. The unity in this piece is that everything is dark and then the few sections that have light make the painting one.

All the whiteness makes everything one piece and it also makes your eye literally follow it so that it all connects. For example, one will look at the white sky, the girl, then the fence, then the chair, and then again the sky, or even backwards. Nevertheless, the way one looks at the painting is in a sequence subconsciously because it is doing that to your eye, like in a circle. Variety is within the lines and the texture. For example, “Night Nurse” has a variety of lines because you have multiple different lines going in diverse directions.

However, in the variety of texture, the trees have this light surface so that makes it look like there is a foggy glaze over it. When it comes to balance in Wyeth’s painting, one must consider how many white objects are in comparison to how many dark objects. This piece is leaning towards being dark so it is unbalanced. If it were to be balanced, there would need to be more white objects applied in the painting, however, it has a lot of dark and those few white things really stand out because of that. In an asymmetrical painting, the artist has something at one point and then objects coming out of that one point.

Wyeth’s painting is asymmetrical because the girl is coming out of the house and headed towards the trees. When discussing the color white that Wyeth uses, one can also notice his main emphasis in the painting which is the girl wearing the white dress and also using white for the fence and chair. In art, subordination means that some things get more attention and some get less. For instance, the white figure dominates the ground and everything else around her. The white objects are subordinate because they are in focus, bright, and very dominate because of the way they are emphasized.

In contrast to the colors, there is also rhythm applied to the painting. For example, all the lines in the fence and in the siding of the house create a unique rhythm in the piece. However, when discussing scale and proportion one may focus his or her eyes directly on the chair and the girl. When looking at first, one may not think she could sit in the chair but if they were to keep looking they would notice that Wyeth painted the chair up close so it only appears to be bigger, while the girl is farther away.

He created that visual affect, as well as all these visual effects, perfectly. When I first saw this painting, my interpretation was that the woman wanted to leave this dark place, but was trapped. The reason I felt she was trapped was because she is such a light colored figure with her back turned to a dark setting and behind her was a white wooden chair, the same color of her dress, still sitting on the porch as she walks away and since the chair and fence do not move with her, it seems something apart of her will always stay at that house.

The chair and fence could have been painted any other color, but instead Wyeth used them as the same. The key elements created this meaning for me because Wyeth used all the principles of art and focused it all on the girl in the painting while only using one tone and very little colors. He was able to create so many different meanings by using very little. This is by far the only painting that caught my eye and the only painting that really set my mind on fire. I actually developed a sense of attachment to this painting the moment I saw it and it has only grown since then.

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Andrew Wyeth “Night Nurse”. (2019, May 02). Retrieved from

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