Michael Palin in Wyeth’s (and Helga’s) world.


It’s not a stretch to suggest that if you’d never heard of Monty Python, you’d think of Michael Palin as the guy who does documentaries, especially travelogues, though lately he’s branched out into art.

Vilhelm Hammershøi: “He was an artist. He made paintings. The rest is silence.”

Michael Palin: “The world is an absurd and silly place.”

Andrew Wyeth is far better known than Hammershøi, and Palin leads with Wyeth’s well-known “Christina’s World,” but the ultimate focus lies elsewhere.

Michael Palin heads for rural Pennsylvania and Maine to explore the extraordinary life and work of one of America’s most popular and controversial painters, Andrew Wyeth. Fascinated by his iconic painting Christina’s World, Palin goes in search of the real life stories that inspired this and Wyeth’s other depictions of the American landscape and its hard grafting inhabitants.

Tracking down the farmers, friends and family featured in Wyeth’s magically real work, Palin builds a picture of an eccentric, enigmatic and driven painter. He also gets a rare interview with Helga, the woman who put Wyeth back in the headlines when the press discovered he had been painting her nude, compulsively but secretly for 15 years.

Ah, yes. The infamous Helga Testorf.

How Michael Palin Broke the Silence of The Helga Paintings, by Bob Duggan (Big Think)

… Palin deserves a lot of credit for getting Helga Testorf to give her side of the story at last, but it raises the question of how true her or the Wyeths’ side really is. Undoubtedly, “The Helga Paintings” are really about “love,” but whether they’re about love of art, love of the human form, love of a friend, love of a mistress, love of money (the root of all evil), or some or all of the above, I’d love to know.

As an aside, the late Robert Hughes didn’t buy into the “official” explanations.


… The final lesson of the Helga hype was that we journalists had done it to ourselves. We wanted to believe in a big, squishy human-interest story where none existed. When it began to come clear that there was not, we still went ahead, because we were afraid of being outsplashed by rivals.

Whether 1987 or 2017, it seems that certain aspects of American culture are recurring and eternal.