Alexander Helwig Wyant was one of the country’s leading landscape painters in the decades following the Civil War, infusing new life into and broadening the Hudson River school’s aesthetic. Wyant’s early career was typical of a frontier-born artist. He first worked as a harness maker and sign painter in Ohio. Inspired by the paintings of GEORGE INNESS, which he may have seen in Cincinnati in 1857, Wyant traveled east to visit Inness. This visit in 1859 was instrumental in gaining for Wyant the patronage of the Cincinnati collector Nicholas Longworth.
Wyant led the life of an itinerant painter in Ohio and Kentucky until 1863, when he settled in New York. He first exhibited at the National Academy of Design in 1865. Later that same year he went to Karlsruhe, Germany, studying for about a year with the Düsseldorf-trained, Norwegian landscapist Hans Fredrik Gude (1825-1903). During this trip he also visited England and Ireland and became impressed with the art of John Constable (1776-1837). Back in America, he painted in an early Hudson River school style, which was eventually transformed under the influences of Inness’s later style and of Barbizon painting.
Wyant became known for intimate scenes of woodland glades and open, rolling hills. During his later years his paintings were noted for their extremely loose, almost abstract handling of the brush, which traditionally has been explained as due to his painting with his left hand after a stroke in 1873 left his right one paralyzed.
Most of his landscapes were painted in the Adirondack and Catskill mountains in New York, especially after 1889, when he settled in Arkville. He painted as far west as Arizona, which he visited in early 1873 with the Wheeler Survey. In 1862 he helped establish the American Society of Painters in Watercolor and in 1868 was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design.
Eliot Clark, Alexander Wyant (New York: Privately printed, 1916) § Eliot Clark, Sixty Paintings by Alexander H. Wyant (New York: Privately printed, 1920) § John C. Van Dyke, American Painting and Its Tradition (New York: Scribner’s, 1920), pp. 45-63 § Robert S. Olpin, "Alexander Helwig Wyant (1836-1892) American Landscape Painter," Ph.D. diss., Boston University, 1971, with catalogue raisonné, chronology, bibliographies, lists of exhibitions and collections § Peter Bermingham, "Alexander H. Wyant: Some Letters from Abroad," Archives of American Art Journal 12, no. 4 (1972): 1-8.