What is it?


John Wilde (1919–2006)


An American Interior




Oil and collage on panel


36 x 50 in.

Credit line

Gifted 2015, The Art Ball Fund

About the Work


While still in high school in Milwaukee, John Wilde fell under the influence of established artists Paul Clemens, Alfred Sessler, and Santos Zingale, who he followed to the University of Wisconsin–Madison. After serving as an artist in the army during WWII, Wilde returned to the UW–Madison where he taught art studio courses from 1948 until his retirement in 1982.

An American Interior, painted right before Wilde was drafted into the Army, is a seminal document of magic realism. It is one of Wilde’s largest paintings, and the work that hung in the artist’s own living room until his death. The white wall in the foreground appears to be an outer wall, yet pictures hang upon it and a chair, table, and umbrella stand create the atmosphere of a room. Interior and exterior elements are combined in a way that Wilde would subsequently adapt to rendering innermost thoughts and feelings as pictorial realities. It is classic Wilde: a blend of seemingly incompatible, decontextualized elements with an enigmatic narrative. The drama is staged like a play whose set’s components are simultaneously real and false—a description that applies to much of his work.

Wilde’s paintings and drawings are in museum collections across the country including the Whitney Museum of American Art, NYC; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AK;  Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC; Art Institute of Chicago; Detroit Institute of Art; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Yale University, New Haven, CT.