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 Jamie (James Browning) Wyeth  (1946 - )

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/Maine/Delaware      Known for: animal, architecture and portrait painting

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Jamie Wyeth
from Auction House Records.
Winter Pig
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in 1946, James Browning Wyeth came of age when the meaning of patriotism was clouded by the traumas of the Vietnam War and the scandals of Watergate. Working in an era of turmoil and questioning of governmental authority, he did art that encompassed both marching off to war and marching in protest.

One of James's early masterworks, Draft Age (1965) depicts a childhood friend as a defiant Vietnam-era teenager resplendent in dark sunglasses and black leather jacket in a suitably insouciant pose.

Two years later Wyeth painstakingly composed a haunting, posthumous Portrait of President John F. Kennedy (1967) that seems to catch the martyred Chief Executive in a moment of agonized indecision.  As Wyeth Center curator Lauren Raye Smith points out, Wyeth "did not deify the slain president, [but] on the contrary made him seem almost too human."

Based on hours of study and sketching of JFK's brothers Robert and Edward -
documented by insightful studies in the exhibition - the final, pensive portrait seemed too realistic to family members and friends. "His brother  Robert," writes Smith in the exhibition catalogue, "reportedly felt uneasy about this depiction, and said it reminded him of the President during the Bay of Pigs invasion."

In spite of these misgivings, James's JFK likeness has been reproduced frequently and is one of the highlights of this show.  The poignancy, appeal  and perceptiveness of this portrait, painted when the youngest Wyeth was 21 years old, makes one wish he would do more portraits of important public figures.

James himself feels he is at his best painting people he knows well, as exemplified by his vibrant Portrait of Jean Kennedy Smith (1972), which captures the vitality of the slain President's handsome sister.

He did paint a portrait of Jimmy Carter for the January 1977 man-of-the-year cover of Time magazine, showing the casually dressed President-elect as a straightforward character posed under a flag-draped water tower next to the family peanut plant in Plains, Ga. James recalls that Carter had one Secret Service agent guarding him as he posed outdoors, a far cry from the protection our Chief Executives require today.

As a participating artist in the "Eyewitness to Space" program organized by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in collaboration with the National Gallery of Art in the late 1960s, Wyeth deftly recorded in a series of watercolors his eyewitness observations of dramatic spacecraft launchings and more mundane scenes associated with the space program.

Commissioned by Harper's Magazine to cover the 1974 congressional hearings and trials of Watergate figures, James Wyeth executed a series of perceptive and now evocative sketches that recall those dark chapters in our history.  Memorable images include a scowling John Ehrlichman, a hollow-eyed Bob Haldeman, an owlish Charles Colson, a focused Congressman Peter Rodino, a grim visaged Father/ Congressman Robert Drinan, and vignettes of the press and various courtroom activities.  An 11-by-14-inch pencil sketch of the unflappable Judge John Sirica is especially well done.  These "images are powerful as historical records," observes Smith, "and as lyrically journalistic impressions of events that changed the nation forever."

Wyeth's sketch of early-morning crowds lined up outside the Supreme Court
building hoping to hear the Watergate case, with the ubiquitous TV cameramen looking on, is reminiscent of recent scenes as the high court grappled with the Bush-Gore contest.

The Wyeth family penchant for whimsy and enigmatic images is evident in Islanders (1990), showing two of James's friends, wearing goofy hats, sitting on the porch of a small Monhegan Island (Me.) cottage draped with a large American flag.  Mixing the serious symbolism of Old Glory with the irreverent appearance of the two men, James has created a puzzling but interesting composition.

Painting White House Christmas cards for President and Mrs Ronald Reagan, James first showed the familiar mansion as a homey place, with a single light burning in the Reagans' bedroom on a snowy evening in Christmas at the White House (1981).  In 1984, he chose a view with Old Glory flying over a close-up, snowed-in image of the North Portico, in Christmas Morning at the White House.

While at work on the official portrait of the White House as part of its bicentennial anniversary, James Wyeth spent a great deal of time on the grounds of the mansion, examining it from all angles and at all hours. "It's just so amazing that this is the home of the leader of the free world," he says, "yet it is really not a large structure. Visitors come expecting to see something on the scale of Versailles, and here is this comparatively small house on the hill, but it is the center of power for this country."

Source:
The New York Times, online edition, 1/25/2001 


Biography from Farnsworth Art Museum:
Jamie Wyeth, the second son of artist Andrew Wyeth, was born in 1946 and is the youngest member of the Wyeth dynasty.  In recent years, he has spent much of his time year-round painting in Maine, first on Monhegan, in a house that formerly belonged to Rockwell Kent, and since the late 1980s on Southern Island where he lives in a restored lightkeeper's house.  Of the Wyeths,

Jamie is, perhaps, the most closely attached and attuned to the island of Monhegan.  It is situated ten miles offshore, with its dramatic headlands, crashing surf and picturesque harbor, and has long attracted artists including Robert Henri, George Bellows, Edward Hopper and Kent, among many others.  Jamie Wyeth's Monhegan pictures, however, focus on portraits - portraits of people, but also portraits of houses, birds, sheep, and objects of everyday life that the artist imbues with individual identities and a strong sense of time and place.  His series of portraits of young Orca Bates (and most recently, Orca's younger brother Cat - both named for fish) are about change, transition and the complex emotional state between childhood and adulthood. I n a sense these and other paintings of lighthouses, gulls, and anchors - the stuff of "tourist art" in lesser hands - along with Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts and homemade trash incinerators convey a more generalized portrait of Maine.  It is the Maine where past and present collide with a strange, tense beauty and evocative power, where nature and man still live in uneasy harmony and increasingly precarious balance.

Although their works vary widely in style and content, all three Wyeths have defined the image of Maine in the popular imagination.  It is a vision that continues the enduring tradition of realism in America even as it transforms our understanding of that imprecise term.  The Wyeths in Maine seem to respond most deeply to a kind of purity and "remoteness of spirit that is very moving," found on the "shelving shores" and "snuff colored islands" so loved by N.C. and his progeny.


Biography from Spanierman Gallery:
Son of Andrew Wyeth, American’s most popular painter, and a grandson of the illustrator Newell Convers Wyeth, Jamie Wyeth has established a national reputation as a painter of portraits, animals, and landscapes.  Among a number of contemporary American artists who embrace the tenets of Realism, Wyeth has created a body of work that stands out for its distinctive subject matter and its remarkable technical expertise.

Wyeth was born in Wilmington, Delaware on July 6, 1946, the youngest son of Andrew Wyeth and his wife, Betsy.  While growing up in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, he decided that like his forebears, he too would pursue a career in art. Wyeth subsequently left school at the age of twelve, receiving private home tutoring while studying painting with his aunt Carolyn Wyeth, who taught him the rudiments of classical draftsmanship.  During these formative years, Wyeth would hone his skills by making charcoal still life drawings in N.C. Wyeth’s old studio.  He later spent three years working as an apprentice to his father, after which time he moved to New York, refining his skills in depicting human anatomy by studying and drawings corpses in a hospital morgue.  After experimenting with various media, Wyeth found that in contrast to his father, who favors tempera, he was drawn to the bright hues and the moist, lush effects of oil paint, which he began to use regularly in 1963.

Through this means Wyeth developed a traditional realist style, initially working in the meticulous manner of his father but imbuing his work with his own personal touch.  During the 1960s and 70s, he applied this approach to portraits (among them his well-received posthumous image of John F. Kennedy, done in 1967), in which he captured the humanity of his sitters and revealed himself as a master of the human form.  His portrait oeuvre includes images of artists such as Andy Warhol to politicians, among them President-elect Jimmy Carter, all portrayed with an eye for detail and a desire to evoke the individual spirit of his subject.

By 1968--the year he married Phyllis Mills of Middleburg, Virginia, and settled on a farm in Chadds Ford--Wyeth had added other thematic dimensions to his art, painting large-scale portraits of domestic animals and livestock in which he demonstrated his ability to convey the physiognomy of his subjects as well as diverse textures such as fur and feathers.  He also became closely linked to the artistic life of Monhegan Island, Maine; indeed, in 1968 Wyeth purchased the house built by the painter Rockwell Kent on Lobster Cove, going on to summer there regularly.  Since 1991, he has been active on Southern Island, where he continues to depict old lighthouses, indigenous birds and the sea.  Most recently, Wyeth has been painting “dreamscapes”—evocative figure paintings in which he explores the topic of contemporary adolescence.

In addition to his activity as a painter, Wyeth has illustrated two childrens’ books—Betsy James Wyeth’s The Stray (1979) and Cabbages and Kings by Elizabeth Seabrook (1997). He has also designed a Christmas stamp for the U.S. Postal Service (1971), official White House Christmas cards (1981, 1984), and the Special Olympics World Summer Games Commemorative Coin (1995), which featured a portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver.

Wyeth had his first one-man show at the Knoedler Gallery in New York when he was twenty.  Since that time, he has had numerous solo exhibitions, including a full retrospective at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska in the winter of 1975-76 and one-man shows at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1980), the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth (1981), the Oklahoma Arts Center (1985), the Farnsworth Art Museum (1993), the Brandywine River Museum (1994), and Decatur House, Washington, D.C. (1995), among others.

Recent exhibitions include The Maine Influence: Selected Works by Jamie Wyeth (2001) and Capturing Nureyev: Jamie Wyeth Paints the Dancer (2002), held at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine.  His work has also been shown alongside that of his father and grandfather, in such notable exhibitions as An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, organized by the Brandywine River Museum in 1987.

Wyeth is a member of the National Academy of Design, the American Water Color Society, the National Space Institute, and the National Endowment for the Arts.  He holds honorary degrees from several institutions, including Elizabethtown College (1975), Dickinson Collage, Carlisle, Pennsylvania (1983), the University of Vermont (1988), and Westbrook College, Portland, Maine (1993).

Examples of Jamie Wyeth’s work can be found in major public collections across the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; the Farnsworth Art Museum, Rockland, Maine; the Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania; the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska; the Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington; and the Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, among others.

Carol Lowrey

©The essay herein is the property of Spanierman Gallery, LLC and is copyrighted by Spanierman Gallery, LLC. It may not be reproduced without written permission from Spanierman Gallery, LLC nor shown or communicated to anyone without due credit being given to Spanierman Gallery, LLC.


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