Betsy James Wyeth, the widow, business manager and muse of painter Andrew Wyeth, died Tuesday at age 98, according to the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which she helped found.
She was a guiding force throughout her husband’s career, documenting and promoting his work and the legacy of a family that included book illustrator N.C. Wyeth, her father-in-law, and painter Jamie Wyeth, her son.
After the former’s death, she compiled and edited “The Wyeths: The Letters of N. C. Wyeth, 1901-1945,” a book that led to a reassessment of his career. In 1976 she published the first book on her husband’s work, “Wyeth at Kuerners,” followed by “Christina’s World” in 1982.
Betsy James met Andrew Wyeth in Maine, where their families lived, and married him a year later, in 1940. They divided their time between coastal Maine and the sloping hills of Chadds Ford in southeastern Pennsylvania, the landscapes he captured in his muted, often melancholy paintings. He died in 2009.
Speaking to biographer Richard Meryman in 1966, Andrew Wyeth said his wife “made me see more clearly what I wanted.”
“Betsy galvanized me at the time I needed it,” Wyeth said. “She’s made me into a painter that I would not have been otherwise.”
Early in their marriage, Betsy Wyeth introduced her husband to neighbor Christina Olson, who became the subject of his 1948 series, “Christina’s World.”
In the early 1970s, she helped turn a 19th-century gristmill into the Brandywine River Museum, providing a public home for hundreds of pieces by three generations of the family. The museum plans to honor Betsy Wyeth, when it reopens after the COVID-19-related shutdown, with an exhibit of 18 works her husband made depicting her over the years.
Betsy Wyeth died at home in Chadds Ford after several years of declining health, a family spokesperson told The Philadelphia Inquirer. She is also survived by another son, Nicholas, an art dealer, and a granddaughter.