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American Collector Acquires Wyeth’s ‘Helga’ Series

The entire collection of Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga” series—comprising 244 drawings and paintings of his neighbor Helga Testorf—was sold in early December to an American collector for an undisclosed price.

NEW YORK—The entire collection of Andrew Wyeth’s “Helga” series—comprising 244 drawings and paintings of his neighbor Helga Testorf—was sold in early December to an American collector for an undisclosed price.

Though few details have been made public, the transaction was brokered by Wyeth’s longtime dealer Frank Fowler, of Lookout Mountain, Tenn. The seller was a Japanese corporation, according to Fowler, who adds that a condition of sale was that the entire collection remain intact. Under a preexisting arrangement, it is scheduled to go on display at the Naples Museum of Art, Fla., this month (Jan. 21-May 14). No other future plans for exhibits or loans have been announced.

The “Helga” portraits, many nude, were painted over a period of 15 years and were revealed to the art world in 1986. The collection was exhibited and sold twice in the course of three years: The first sale was made, in 1986, to publisher-collector Leonard Andrews (directly by the artist); and later, in 1989, to a Japanese corporation (not disclosed at the time) for an amount reportedly exceeding $40 million.

A two-year long exhibition of the full collection began in 1987 at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and subsequently traveled to Boston, Brooklyn, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Over the next two decades, portions of the collection were displayed at regional museums around the United States, including venues in Charlotte, N.C., Louisville, Ky., Lafayette, La., Portland, Me., and Canton, Ohio, as well as at museums in Japan.

Despite the fact that the former owners of the collection were in Japan, the “Helga” collection was housed and cared for at the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Penn., which holds a sizable number of works by artist members of the Wyeth family. The museum has a permanent Andrew Wyeth Gallery; Fowler reports that individual works from the “Helga” collection have been added periodically “to enhance the permanent display.”

Fowler said he did not know why the Japanese owners had never taken physical possession of the artworks nor why they eventually decided to sell them.

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