Picks and Pans Review: Andrew Wyeth: the Helga Pictures

updated 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/08/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

text by John Wilmerding

If someone had uncovered a horde of 50 soft-core paintings by Norman Rockwell, America could scarcely have been more titillated. For 15 years Wyeth, creator of the cryptic Christina's World, one of the most popular works in New York's Museum of Modern Art, secretly had been painting portraits, including many nudes, of a mystery woman. When the story broke last year, reproductions of his idealized images of the woman, a housekeeper named Helga Testorf, appeared in newspapers and magazines worldwide. She would not see reporters. For his part, Wyeth was back in the public consciousness, where he basks happily. A collector named Leonard E.B. Andrews, who paid a reported $10 million for 240 works featuring Helga, suddenly had a windfall investment, and the publishers of this book had a fantastic ad possibility: "You've read about the scandal! Now see all the pictures!" Some of the sketches have a bit of life and spontaneity, suggesting Wyeth is capable of better art than these paintings. They look like self-conscious illustrations for R-rated women's magazine romance fiction. The whiff of promotional sex-tease continues in the book with a quote from the artist above his painting of a sleeping, heavy-breasted Helga: "I think one's art goes as far and as deep as one's love goes." One's love—and one's art—could go with a little less hype. (Abrams, $40)

From Our Partners