PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Renowned American artist Andrew Wyeth, famous for landscapes of his native Pennsylvania and Maine, died on Friday, according to a spokeswoman for the Brandywine River Museum near his home.
Wyeth, who was 91, died in his sleep early in the morning, surrounded by his family and friends, after a brief illness, the museum said in a statement.
He is best known for "Christina's World" (1948), in which a disabled woman appears to be striving to cross a largely empty landscape. It was painted, like many of his other works, in egg tempera, a technique that he said forced him to slow down the execution of a painting.
Wyeth, one of the best-known American painters, drew international recognition during his long career. He was the first American artist since John Singer Sargent to be inducted into the French Academy of Fine Arts, and the first living American artist to have an exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the statement said.
In the United States, he was the first artist to win the Presidential Freedom Award, presented by President John F. Kennedy in 1963. A 2006 exhibition of his works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art drew 177,000 visitors, the highest-ever attendance at the museum for a living artist.
"The world has lost one of the greatest artists of all time," said George Weymouth, chairman of the Brandywine museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, which houses many of the Wyeth family's paintings.
Wyeth was part of a large creative family that included his father, the painter and illustrator N.C. Wyeth, and his son Jamie Wyeth. An exhibition containing the works of the three generations of painters went on tour internationally in 1987.
He began training in his father's studio at the age of 15, and drew inspiration from the landscape around Chadds Ford, a suburb of Philadelphia, where he was born in 1917.
David Brigham, museum director of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, said Wyeth's work connected with people because it expressed post-Second World War optimism combined with anxiety and disconnection in the middle years of the 20th century.
In "Young America" (1950), Wyeth depicted a boy riding a bicycle with red, white and blue streamers on the handlebars across a barren landscape, evoking American dynamism amid an uncertain world, Brigham said.
"It's a great loss," Brigham said. "Wyeth was one of the greatest painters of the 20th century."
The highest price fetched for a Wyeth painting at auction was for the 1973 work "Ericksons," which sold for $10.03 million at Christie's in 2007, Brigham said.
The Academy, where Wyeth was a regular exhibitor from 1938 to 1965, gave Wyeth the rare honor of two Gold Medals, in 1966 and 1998.
Wyeth is survived by his wife Betsy James, his two sons Jamie and Nicholas, and a granddaughter.
Editing by Eric Walsh