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About Jamie Wyeth

Jamie Wyeth was born into the distinguished Wyeth family dynasty begun by his grandfather, N.C. Wyeth, the famous illustrator of classic literary novels such as Robinson Crusoe, and continued by his father Andrew Wyeth, who is among America’s most popular artists and is known most widely for the painting Christina’s World.  Jamie has continued the tradition handed down to him.   

Famous for his American Realist paintings depicting farm animals and coastal Maine lighthouses, along with many important portraits throughout his career, Jamie’s works are included in the permanent collections  of the National Gallery of Art, National Portrait Gallery, John F. Kennedy Library, Museum of Modern Art, Joslyn Art Museum, Farnsworth Art Museum, Delaware Art Museum, Brandywine River Museum of Art, Morgan Library and Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Whitney Museum of American Art, Greenville County Museum of Art, and Bowdoin College Museum of Art.

Born in Wilmington, DE, Jamie is the second child of Andrew and Betsy James Wyeth.  He grew up in Chadds Ford, PA much the same way his father had been brought up, and with the same influences.  During his childhood, Jamie had before him the example not only of his father and grandfather but also of two of his aunts, Carolyn Wyeth and Henriette (Wyeth) Hurd, and his uncles Peter Hurd and John McCoy - all painters. Jamie had pencils, brushes, and paints always at hand; it was natural for him to use them to express his impressions of the world around him.  He left public school after the sixth grade to be tutored at home so he could devote more time to art. Having acquired most of his own schooling from private tutors, his father didn't consider a formal education necessary for an artist. After taking English and history lessons in the morning, Jamie would go to his aunt Carolyn's studio where, for the first year, he was assigned to drawing spheres and cubes. Although bored by such disciplinary exercises, he understood their value, later stating: “She was very restrictive.  It wasn’t very interesting, but it was very important.”

Indifferent to sports and games and undistracted by the social activities that would have claimed his attention in school, Jamie spent his childhood days studying, sketching, and painting under the tutelage of his aunt.  His natural talent further developed while painting alongside his father in the early 1960’s, although, he recalls, his father didn't actually give him lessons. He offered constructive criticism and discussion on completed works. "Quite simply, Andrew Wyeth is my closest friend—and the painter whose work I most admire. The father/son relationship goes out the window when we talk about one another's work. We are completely frank—as we have nothing to gain by being nice."

By the time he was 18, he had begun to paint portraits in oils, including works that still stand among his most powerful, such as Draft Age and Shorty. Jamie examined all aspects of the appearance and character of the people he painted. For his portrait of Lincoln Kirstein, he required 200 hours of posing by the impresario. True to his approach, Jamie studied anatomy for one winter at a Harlem hospital morgue in New York.

While serving in the Delaware Air National Guard from 1966 to 1971, Jamie was commissioned to paint a portrait of Charles L. Terry, Delaware's governor at the time. Although he rarely accepted commissions, he was persuaded by people close to the Kennedy family to undertake a posthumous portrait of President John F. Kennedy. He familiarized himself with Kennedy's appearance through photographs, motion picture footage, and conversations with people who knew him, including several discussions with the President's widow. To get a sense of the living President, he made numerous sketches of his brothers, Robert and Edward Kennedy.

Toward the end of the 1960s, Jamie took part in Eyewitness to Space, jointly sponsored by the NASA and the National Gallery of Art in Washington - a program designed to record details of the United States space program. As a participating artist, he covered both launchings and splashdowns.

Another historic event that provided subjects for his drawings were the Watergate hearings and trials. On trips to Washington from Maine in the spring, summer, and fall of 1974, he sketched incidents in the Senate and Supreme Court during the hearings, as well as the tense courtroom scenes in Judge John J. Sirica's trial of John D. Ehrlichman and other defendants. Many of these sketches were published in Harper’s Weekly as part of their coverage of the hearings.

Meanwhile, Jamie’s work had become more widely known, having been shown alongside his father's and his grandfather's works at an exhibition in 1971 at the newly opened Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, PA. A highlight of the show was the younger Wyeth's meticulously executed Portrait of Pig, which measures seven by five feet.  Jamie has since created many other "portraits" of animals, ranging from Newfoundland (1971) to The Raven (1980) to Peeky Toe, 2011.

In 1973, the Brandywine River Museum of Art exhibited 143 portraits by members of the immediate and extended Wyeth family.  Jamie displayed a recently completed self-portrait, Pumpkinhead - Self Portrait, showing a scarecrow-like body topped with a grinning pumpkin. The Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha held the first full retrospective of his work in the winter of 1975-1976, where more than forty of his drawings, watercolors, and oils were exhibited. He drew further national attention with an exhibition at the Coe-Kerr Gallery in New York in 1976 which featured portraits that he and the pop artist Andy Warhol did of one another.

Attracted by Jamie's realistic style, officials of the Soviet Union invited him in the summer of 1975 to tour a variety of the country's art centers. While there, he sought out dissident artists and argued their cause with his official hosts, to no avail.  In March 1987, Jamie again visited the Soviet Union, this time in Leningrad to attend the opening of An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, a major exhibition of 117 works by him, his father, and grandfather. At a press conference in Leningrad, Jamie said, "Painting, music, dance, and literature are not themselves the tools of politics - and should not be - but they do set yardsticks of aspiration, standards of excellence, and emblems of humanity. It is my fervent hope that the work of my family, that this exhibition in some small way will contribute to a world of better understanding and peace."

Some of Jamie’s one-man exhibitions have included those at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Greenville County Museum of Art, Amon Carter Museum, Anchorage Fine Arts Museum, Portland Museum of Art, Columbia Museum of Art, Oklahoma Arts Center, William A. Farnsworth Museum of Art, Brandywine River Museum of Art, Decatur House, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

In the early 1970’s Jamie served as a member of the advisory committee of the United States Postal Service. He designed one of the 1971 eight-cent Christmas stamps depicting the partridge in a pear tree of the English carol "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Jamie was commissioned by President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan to produce the official White House Christmas cards for 1981 and 1984. In 2005 he painted the Christmas card for President and Mrs. George W. Bush.  In 1994 the U.S. Mint commissioned Jamie to produce a portrait of Eunice Kennedy Shriver for use on the 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games Commemorative Coin honoring her work with the Special Olympics. He volunteered his time and talent to produce the coin. The 1995 Special Olympics World Summer Games Commemorative Coin was the U.S. Mint's largest selling coin in 1995. He also lent his support to lighthouse preservation efforts in Maine with his 1995 exhibition, Jamie Wyeth: "Island Light" and the unveiling of a limited, signed and numbered edition of the painting, Iris at Sea.

Jamie has illustrated three children's books. The first, in 1979, The Stray, written by his mother, Betsy James Wyeth, and published by Farrar, Straus, Giroux; Cabbages and Kings, written by Elizabeth Seabrook, published in 1997 by Viking Children's Books, Penguin Putnam Inc.; and in 2011, Sammy in the Sky, written by Barbara Walsh, Candlewick Press.

In 1972, Jamie was appointed a council member of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1975, he became a member of the board of governors of the National Space Institute. He is a member of the national Academy of Design and the American Watercolor Society.

In 2011, Farm Work by Jamie Wyeth was exhibited at the Brandywine River Museum of Art.  In 2014 the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston mounted a major retrospective of his works entitled, Jamie Wyeth.  The exhibition traveled to the Brandywine River Museum of Art, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and the San Antonio Museum of Art.  The Denver Art Museum in 2016 organized an exhibition entitled, Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio which highlighted the processes used in their painting.

Jamie holds honorary degrees from Elizabethtown College, 1975, Elizabethtown, PA; Dickinson School of Law, 1983, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA; Pine Manor College, 1987, Chestnut Hill, MA; University of Vermont, 1988, Burlington, VT; Westbrook College, Portland, ME, 1993; and the University of Maine, 2001.

 

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