Henriette Wyeth was born in Wilmington, Delaware, into an artistic family. Wyeth was the eldest of the five children of illustrator N.C. Wyeth and his wife Carolyn Bockius. Her siblings Carolyn Wyeth and Andrew Wyeth also became artists, with Andrew Wyeth becoming the most consistently well-known artist of this creative family. Henriette contracted polio at age 3, which altered her health and use of her right hand. As a result, she learned to draw with her left hand and paint with her right. She grew up on the family farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and attended local Quaker schools. She and her siblings were eventually homeschooled because her father distrusted the public school system. She began formal art lessons with her father at age 11, studying charcoal studies and geometric shapes. A child prodigy, at age 13 she was enrolled in the Normal Arts School in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1921, Wyeth entered the Boston Museum of Art Academy, and two years later began studying painting at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. By age 16, she was well known as a portraitist and received commissions for paintings of Wilmington residents. Heavily influenced by her father's unique realistic style, she rejected painting genres, such as Impressionism and Cubism. She was socially and politically conservative, which lead to her also rejecting progressive movements of the 1960s and 1970s, including the women's movement, and criticizing television and modern culture.
At age 21, Wyeth married artist Peter Hurd, her father's apprentice and a fellow student at the Pennsylvania Academy. The couple married in 1929, and had three children: Peter Jr., Carolyn and Michael Hurd. In 1938, they established the Sentinel Ranch in San Patricio, in southern New Mexico near Roswell, New Mexico. Wyeth's father was not happy about the move because, as she stated in a 1989 interview, “He felt I should not let marriage interfere with my painting.” Henriette Wyeth, however, did continue to paint for the rest of her life, until health problems prevented her from doing so.
Wyeth’s work spanned portraiture of adults and children, still lifes, and floral landscapes. In her work, she "often included objects that related to the subject's interest or personality..." She eventually stopped painting children because, as she said, “today's children--they are so deadpan." This cynicism extended to television and feminism, both of which she criticized. She felt that modern society had “blunted” children. She painted for Helen Hayes, Paulette Goddard, and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller III (Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller ), for which she earned a lasting celebrity. In 1963, she painted a portrait of her brother for the cover of Time Magazine. Also Hurd and Wyeth were both commissioned to produce a cover portrait of Lyndon B. Johnson for Time's "Man of the Year" issue.
Her most widely known work is the official White House portrait of First Lady Pat Nixon. She exhibited at the Pennsylvania Academy (1927, 1936–44), where she was awarded the 1937 Mary Smith Prize for a portrait of her son Peter. She received other awards for her work, including the Governor's Award in Santa Fe, New Mexico and a Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Center. Much of her work is located at The Roswell Museum and Art Center, in Roswell, New Mexico and at the Hurd La Rinconada Gallery in San Patricio, NM. Her paintings can also be found in the permanent collections of the Brandywine River Museum, the Los Angeles Athletic Club, the National Portrait Gallery, the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, and the Texas Tech University Fine Art Museum.
Her papers, and those of her husband (who died in 1984), are in the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.
Henriette died in her Roswell, New Mexico home-studio from complications from pneumonia in April 1997. According to her biography on the Wyeth Hurd Gallery website, she was “considered by many art scholars to be one of the great women painters of the 20th century.”
One of her well known quotes sums up her philosophy well: "I don't know what is important and what is unimportant, so I call it all immensely important."
Wyeth's work has been exhibited at such notable institution as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh, The Art Institute of Chicago and New Mexico’s Roswell Museum of Art.
Other exhibitions have included:The Wyeth Family, Philadelphia, PA
Exhibition of Paintings by Peter Hurd & Henriette Wyeth, The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, OH
The Wyeths' Wyeths, Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, ME
The Wyeth Family: Three Generations of American Art, Dulwich Picture Gallery, London
The Wyeths: America's Artists, Kalamazoo Institute of the Arts, Kalamazoo, MI
Nomads: Traversing Adolescence, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MI and Kemper East, Kansas City, MI
Future ExhibitionMagical & Real: Henriette Wyeth and Peter Hurd, a Retrospective, Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, PA