Spooky Art: Witching Hour by Andrew Wyeth (Interpretation and Analysis)

Witching Hour
Source: Chadds Ford Gallery

As we continue to celebrate the Halloween season, I want to introduce a rather unsettling piece of art: the Witching Hour by Andrew Wyeth.

Wyeth is perhaps one of the greatest painters in American history. His work is iconic, forming an indelible image of American life and culture, especially in the mid-twentieth century.

Although Wyeth’s work spanned a multitude of subjects, the Wyeth family had a special affinity for Halloween, thriving off the fantastical imagery associated with the holiday. Eerie themes are common in Wyeth’s work, as well as in his son, Jamie Wyeth’s, paintings. Wyeth once explained his work in the following words:

There’s witchcraft and hidden meaning there. Halloween and all that is strangely tied into [my paintings]. For me, the paintings have that eerie feeling of goblins and witches out riding on broomsticks — damp rotting leaves and moisture — smell of make-up — as a child, the smell inside of a pumpkin when a candle is lit — the feel of your face under a mask walking down a road in the moonlight. I love all that, because then I don’t exist anymore.

Witching Hour perfectly demonstrates this strange and disconcerting quality in Wyeth’s work. The painting depicts an empty dining room. A bare table is surrounded by black wooden chairs, and a candle chandelier casts shadows on the ceiling while the flames dance in an invisible breeze. Dark windows overlook the lonely scene, candle flames reflected in the dark glass.

There is an unsettling quality to the piece that is difficult to describe. The bare table is slightly off center, creating a sense of tension. However, the most uncanny element of the painting is the aura of absence that hangs over the piece. There are two chairs missing from the set that circles the table, suggesting that someone or something has just left the room. It is this absence that hangs in the air and makes the scene hum with supernatural energy.

Although it is a simple painting, there is truly something magical and eerie about the Witching Hour. Though these feelings are intangible, Wyeth manages to express them in simple and sharp lines and shadows.