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For 'Christina's World,' visit Maine; Wyeths' world, Pennsylvania - plus museums in DC, Boston

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CHADDS FORD, Pa. - A recent review of an Andrew Wyeth show calls his famous painting "Christina's World" the "best-loved worst painting in history."

But don't be a hater. Some of us love Wyeth, his work, and well, his entire family — including his father N.C. Wyeth and son Jamie. "Christina's World" is at New York's Museum of Modern Art, but fans can immerse themselves in Wyeth world by visiting historic sites and permanent collections in Maine and Pennsylvania, along with museums in Boston and Washington that are hosting special exhibits this summer. Here are the details.

CHADDS FORD, PENNSYLVANIA

You're not an uber-Wyeth fan until you've visited the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which owns many works by all three Wyeths. A $40 package includes lunch, guided tours of museum galleries, plus visits to N.C.'s home and studio, and Andrew's home and studio, where Jamie also worked. For another $8, you can also tour Kuerner Farm, inspiration for many of Andrew's landscapes, still-lifes and portraits, including paintings of his secret muse Helga. You'll not only hear stories about the Wyeths, but you'll get a mini-art appreciation course from the excellent docents.

Among the museum's most memorable works: N.C.'s early 20th century illustrations for the children's book "Treasure Island." One shows a mother weeping into her apron as her young son leaves home, bag in hand, off on an adventure. The mother's reaction was not a big part of the story, but it's the type of emotional moment that N.C. zeroed in on.

The tours also offer a look at artifacts the Wyeths kept on hand to guide their realism, from helmets to a full-size canoe. You'll recognize landscapes and objects that inspired them, like the rolling green fields and hill outside Kuerner Farm, which figure in Andrew's work, and the bucket over the sink in the Kuerner barn from Andrew's rustic scene, "Spring Fed."

MAINE: CUSHING AND ROCKLAND

In the tiny coastal town of Cushing, Maine, you can visit the house where Andrew Wyeth painted "Christina's World." If you're among those who view the painting as middlebrow schlock, learning about the real Christina Olson, and Wyeth's interpretation of what he saw, may change your mind. Olson was crippled — though contrary to popular belief, not from polio — but did not use a wheelchair. She crawled across the farmyard to garden and hang laundry, a picture of dignity amid rural poverty.

The painting was deemed a masterpiece by the New York art establishment just before Abstract Expressionism rendered American realism passe — a view that still colours how Wyeth's work is sometimes perceived (witness the Washington City Paper review that recently called "Christina's World" the "best-loved worst painting in history").

Tours of the Olson House, now a National Historic Landmark, tell not just Christina's story but also how Andrew befriended her. You'll see the view from the house that inspired works like "Wind From the Sea," on display now in Washington.

The Farnsworth Art Museum in nearby Rockland has a Wyeth Center devoted to the family's art. Through Dec. 31, the museum hosts "The Wyeths, Maine and the Sea," with landscapes, portraits of fishermen and farmers, and other coastal motifs. The Farnsworth also hosts two smaller Andrew Wyeth shows, "Portrait Studies" through Nov. 2, and "Temperas and Watercolors" through Oct. 22.

Combined admission to the Olson House and Farnsworth is $17; http://www.farnsworthmuseum.org/olson-house/ .

NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART, WASHINGTON, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art chose "Wind From the Sea," part of its permanent collection, to advertise the exhibit "Andrew Wyeth: Looking Out, Looking In," showcasing his images of windows. "Wind From the Sea" depicts sheer curtains blowing in a window of the Olson House, overlooking a field and trees framing a grey sky and sliver of sea, elegantly rendered in neutral colours. Other works depict the Kuerner Farm, apples on a weathered ledge, and geometric patterns of window frames. The show is up through Nov. 30, and it's free; http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2014/andrew-wyeth.html .

BOSTON

Opening July 16, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston hosts what it's calling the first major retrospective of Jamie Wyeth, with over 100 works spanning six decades. The show is in Boston through Dec. 28; adults, $25, http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/jamie-wyeth . The exhibit travels next year to the Brandywine, San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas and Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Arkansas.

Jamie's best-known works include portraits of celebrities like Rudolf Nureyev, along with a famous posthumous painting of John F. Kennedy. But his repertoire also includes rustic landscapes, pets — including his dog Kleberg, painted with a circle drawn around one eye to recall the "Little Rascals" mascot, and images connected to his experiences in New York hanging out with Andy Warhol's crowd.

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