NEW YORK - The Wyeth family established itself as a dynasty in the field of American Art. Beginning with the famed illustrator Newell Convers Wyeth, painterly talent descended through the Wyeth family, first to N.C.’s son Andrew, and later, to Andrew’s son Jamie. Though each developed his own distinct stylistic approach, one thing they certainly shared is the importance of portraiture in their work. From N.C.’s command of figuration and expression, to Andrew’s keen attention to personal detail, and finally, Jamie’s celebrated depictions of both public figures and ordinary Americans, each generation created a body of portraiture that records his own uniquely American voice.
Growing up under the tutelage of his father, Andrew Wyeth expanded upon N.C.’s emphasis on concentrated observation and the development of sharp technical skills by studying his subjects with an added intensity of human interest. Andrew frequently chose his models based on an apparently insignificant detail, and afterwards depicted his favourites again and again, establishing sincerely personal connections with his sitters. Many of Andrew’s favoured models, including neighbors Christina Olson and Siri Erickson, and the instantly recognisable blonde Helga Testorf, pictured in The Prussian, have become some of his most iconic images. In The Prussian, one can sense a true relationship between artist and model. Wyeth himself noted the unapologetic reality of his Helga pictures, remarking, “You have to feel deeply to do this kind of thing. You cannot conjure it up.” (Andrew Wyeth: Autobiography, Boston, 1973, p. 114) The results are romantic, yet mechanically precise portraits that often reveal a thoughtful consideration of individual and universal human histories.
JAMIE WYETH, PUMPKINHEAD–SELF-PORTRAIT, 1972. ESTIMATE $300,000–500,000.
Just as Andrew Wyeth imbued his works with the personal, his son, Jamie, continued his family’s tradition of intimate portraiture with a remarkably independent creative voice. Nowhere is this more evident than in his work Pumpkinhead–Self-Portrait which exhibits the same complex study of light, colour nuances and natural texture that characterise Andrew’s work. The playful jack-o-lantern at once obscures Jamie’s identity and announces a new aesthetic of his own. This spirited individualism carries over into his portraits of others. Jamie Wyeth comments, “To me, a portrait is not so much the actual painting, but just spending time with the person […] I try to become the person I’m painting. A successful portrait isn’t about the sitter’s physical characteristic – his nose, eyeballs and whatnot – but more the mood and the overall effect.” (quoted in Elliot Bostwick Davis, Jamie Wyeth, Boston, 2014, p. 24) Such dynamic scrutiny makes Jamie Wyeth’s portraits rich with raw observation and symbolic narrative. They are kindred in spirit to those executed by his father, but with a modern eccentricity all their own.