That Gentleman

MAKER:
Artist

Andrew Wyeth ( American, 1917 - 2009 )

DATE:
1960
more object details

General Description

That Gentleman evokes the pensive mood and quality of repose that are hallmarks of Andrew Wyeth's best work. The artist's model was Tom Clark, a fellow resident of Chester County, Pennsylvania. Impressed with his sitter's demeanor, Wyeth wrote: "His 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." In another description, Wyeth offered another level of significance to the painting's title: “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.’” [1]

The figure and setting display a somber dignity, as Clark sits with his back to the viewer and gazes off in quiet contemplation. The items around him show the great care and consideration with which he lived his life. Scissors and a key hang carefully from nails in the wall, and, as noted in Wyeth's description, shoes rest on a tabletop covered with parchment paper.

Wyeth gave his works an introspective feeling by paring away details and reducing his color variation. Wyeth learned the painstaking techniques of tempera painting from his brother-in-law, Peter Hurd (1904-1984), and reserved the medium for his most ambitious paintings. He was not only meticulous, even compulsive, in his realistic detail, he was also, like Thomas Eakins (1844-1916), the painter of lonely, sad and isolated people, caught in the emptiness surrounding successful America. Wyeth's dry, linear style, with its apparitional clarity, increases this sense of psychic isolation.

When first shown in Dallas in 1960, the public was so taken with That Gentleman that visitors left change in a box labeled "Help us buy this painting." As a gesture of gratitude for the local fundraising, Wyeth made the rare decision to let go of one of the preparatory sketches for his paintings. He donated That Gentleman Study (1962.11) to the Museum after reading an article about the collective effort to acquire the finished work.

[1] Andrew Wyeth (Boston, Massachusetts: Museum of Fine Arts, 1970), 95.

Adapted from

  • "Highlights of the American Collection,” in Dallas Museum of Art 100 Years, eds. Dorothy Kosinski, et al. (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 2003), 48.
  • Bonnie Pitman, ed., Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2012), 284.
  • Eleanor Jones Harvey, "Andrew Wyeth, That Gentleman," in _Dallas Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, _ed. Suzanne Kotz (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art, 1997), 262.
  • "Andrew Wyeth, That Gentleman," DMA Connect, Dallas Museum of Art, 2012.

Fun Facts

  • That Gentleman debuted at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts' "Famous Families in American Art" exhibition for the 1960 State Fair of Texas (October 8 to November 20, 1960).
  • The Dallas Museum of Art made headlines with the 1962 purchase of That Gentleman. The price of $58,000 was the highest amount paid by a museum for a painting by a living American artist. The record was preceded and surpassed by other museums' purchases of his paintings. The Philadelphia Museum of Art set the record in 1959 when they purchased Ground Hog Day, and the Farnsworth Art Museum (Rockland, Maine) continued to raise the bar when they acquired Her Room in 1963. This title was previously held by another artist represented in the Museum's collection. Frederic Edwin Church, painter of The Icebergs (1861, 1979.28), sold another monumental landscape for $10,000 in 1909. (The Heart of the Andes, 1859, The Metropolitan Museum of Art) The most recent record-breaking sale of a work by a living American artist occurred in 2013 when Jeff Koons (whose Inflatable Balloon Flower (Yellow), 1997, 2005.56 is owned by the DMA) sold a version of his over-sized Balloon Dog sculptures for over one thousand times Wyeth's 1962 record.
  • Andrew Wyeth's use of egg tempera makes his paintings particularly vulnerable to the formation of a gradual haze on the surface. Conservationists determined this powdery bloom or efflorescence results from fatty acids in the paint rising to the surface. Though careful cleaning can remove the bloom, its recurrence means that Wyeth's tempera works benefit from a continuation of the patient and detail-oriented approach used in their creation.