91 Contemporary, Realistic Paintings by American Artist Jamie Wyeth


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Artist James Wyeth

James Browning Wyeth (born July 6, 1946) is a contemporary American realist painter, son of Andrew Wyeth, and grandson of N.C. Wyeth. He was raised in Chadds Ford Township, Pennsylvania, and is artistic heir to the Brandywine School tradition – painters who worked in the rural Brandywine River area of Delaware and Pennsylvania, portraying its people, animals, and landscape.

Early life

Jamie Wyeth is the second child of Andrew and Betsy Wyeth, born three years after brother Nicholas, his only sibling. He was raised on his parents’ farm “The Mill” in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, in much the same way as his father had been brought up, and with much the same influences. He demonstrated the same remarkable skills in drawing as his father had done at comparable ages. He attended public school for six years and then, at his request was privately tutored at home, so he could concentrate on art. His brother Nicholas would later become an art dealer.

Artistic study

At age 12, Jamie studied with his aunt Carolyn Wyeth, a well-known artist in her own right, and the resident at that time of the N. C. Wyeth House and Studio, filled with the art work and props of his grandfather. In the morning he studied English and history at his home, and in the afternoon joined other students at the studio, learning fundamentals of drawing and composition. He stated later, “She was very restrictive. It wasn’t interesting, but it was important.” Through his aunt, Jamie developed an interest in working with oil painting, a medium he enjoyed at a sensory level: the look, smell and feel of it. Carolyn Wyeth and Howard Pyle were his greatest early influences in developing his technique in working with oil paint.

While Jamie’s work in watercolor was similar to his father’s, his colors were more vivid.
As a boy, Jamie was exposed to art in many ways: the works of his talented family members, art books, attendance at exhibitions, meeting with collectors, and becoming acquainted with art historians. He also developed an offbeat sense of humor, sometimes veering to the macabre.

For at least three years in the early 1960s, when Wyeth was in his middle to late teens, Wyeth painted with his father. Of their close relationship, Wyeth has said: “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.” At age 19 [about 1965] he traveled to New York City, to better study the artistic resources of the city and to learn human anatomy by visiting the city morgue.

  Nikoletta Kiraly

Early on, Wyeth became interested in oil painting, his grandfather’s primary medium, although he is also adept in watercolor and tempera, his father’s preferred media. In describing his aunt’s way of thickly applying oil to her palette, he stated, “I could eat it. Tempera never looked particularly edible. You have to love a medium to work in it. I love the feel and smell of oil.”

In addition to studying his aunt’s oil technique, he also admired his father’s and grandfather’s work, and that of Howard Pyle, his grandfather’s teacher, as well as American masters Winslow Homer and Thomas Eakins. What inspired Wyeth most was not the subject matter or technique of his grandfather, but his “sense of total personal involvement with and intuitive grasp of his subjects”. Jamie Wyeth adopted a wider palette of colors than his father’s, which was closer to his aunt’s and grandfather’s color choices.

Wyeth’s artistic reach is broader than his father’s and grandfather’s. He excels in drawing, lithography, etching, egg tempera, watercolor, and mixed media. Though grounded in this family’s artist tradition and subjects, and bound by the same solitude of his art, his wider travels and experiences have shaped a more rounded artist. In travels to Europe, he studied the Flemish and Dutch masters, and learned the intricate and exacting process of lithography, producing a substantial amount of graphic work.

On portrait painting, Wyeth stated, “To me, a portrait is not so much the actual painting, but just spending the time with the person, traveling with him, watching him eat, watching him sleep. When I work on a portrait, it’s really osmosis. I try to become the person I’m painting. A successful portrait isn’t about the sitter’s physical characteristics—his nose, eyeballs and whatnot—but more the mood and the overall effect. I try not to impose anything of mine on him. I try to get to the point where if the sitter painted, he’d paint a portrait just the way I’m doing it.”

Like his aunt Carolyn, Wyeth enjoys painting domestic animals, such as chickens, dogs, pigs, and horses. To do so, he pays particular attention to the texture of the animal’s fur or feathers, the glossiness of its eye, the grass around its feet. To create the desired effects, he uses brushstrokes for texture and varnish for sheen. Wild birds that appear frequently in his work are the common seagull and the raven, the first of which also features in his Seven Deadly Sins series. Pumpkins also have appeared in several paintings, often carved into Jack-o-lanterns as if for Halloween. Other repeated subjects include the trunks of trees, and their exposed tangled roots, or tree stumps.

  Joel Rea

Since the 1970s, Wyeth has often painted on corrugated cardboard, and now uses “archival” versions of the surface. He likes the rough striated effect it gives to his paintings, and he has also portrayed the material with great fidelity in depictions on conventional canvas, such as the painting 10W30 (1981), depicting a pair of chickens nesting in a discarded carton that once had held 10W30 grade engine oil. He also uses thick, opaque watercolor pigments, straight from the tube, creating effects similar to oil paints.

To evade interruptions by curious sightseers, Wyeth has resorted to painting outdoors in a weathered, smelly, used fish bait box, in the manner of a plywood hunting blind.

Jamie Wyeth Works


With advice from his father, always his closest friend but always frank, Wyeth quickly developed his technique and style. In 1963, at the age of 17, he painted Portrait of Shorty, a bravura minutely detailed portrait of a local railroad worker. Shorty was a man who lived for twenty years in Chadds Ford, in a humble hut as a hermit, only speaking with a local store owner. The composition of an unshaven Shorty against an elegant wing chair is unexpected. Joyce Hill Stoner, art historian and paintings conservator, found it has the “exactitude characteristic of sixteenth-century German oil technique.”
Lincoln Kirstein, a family friend of the Wyeth family, was the subject of his first major portrait of a prominent person, titled appropriately, Portrait of Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein was impressed by the portrait, and declared Wyeth the finest American portrait painter since John Singer Sargent. Kerstein’s quote made it into the catalog for his first one-man exhibition, at the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1966. Landscapes and portraits of people from the Chadds Ford area were presented at the exhibit.
“Eyewitness to Space”

From 1966 to 1971, Wyeth served in the Delaware Air National Guard. Although at one point he was scheduled for immediate deployment to the Vietnam War, flights were cancelled for noncombatants. During that period, he painted Adam and Eve and the C-97 (1969), depicting the Biblical couple astonished by a Boeing C-97 Stratofreighter cargo plane flying overhead. The painting was executed using military-standard oil paint on a piece of parachute cloth measuring 10 by 30 feet (3.0 by 9.1 m).

His assignment changed when he was granted top security clearance and took part in “Eyewitness to Space”, a program jointly sponsored by NASA and the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, to depict the activities of the Apollo moon mission through an artist’s perspective. A total of 47 artists were involved in the “Eyewitness to Space” program, including Robert Rauschenberg, Lamar Dodd, Norman Rockwell, and Morris Graves. Participants met astronauts at launch sites, such as Cape Kennedy, or rode helicopters to observe the pickup of astronauts. Of the works developed, the National Gallery of Arts chose 70 paintings, sculptures, and drawings for “The Artist and Space” exhibit that ran from December 1969 to early January 1970.

  Yifan (Ivan) Gallery

Political portraits and works

Draft Age (1965), made during the Vietnam War, portrays a friend as a rebellious, proud young man who might be required to serve his country to protect values that he may question. Made in oil, the picture shows mastery of the subject, message and medium beyond the artist’s nineteen years.

Through his acquaintance with the Kennedy family, Wyeth was commissioned to do a posthumous unofficial Portrait of John F. Kennedy (1967), with the understanding that he would keep it if it was not accepted by the surviving family.

Both brothers Robert Kennedy and Ted Kennedy posed for Wyeth, and he studied photographs and films of the deceased president for three weeks. He attempted to portray JFK early in his presidency, perhaps in a moment of doubt or indecision over the Bay of Pigs Invasion, with the burden of power weighing on him. Jackie Kennedy thought the portrait accurate, but RFK and other family members did not like the less-than-triumphal depiction.

The painting did not hang in the White House, and after stays at the French embassy in Paris, France and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, it was on loan from the artist to The Vice-President’s Residence Foundation in Washington DC. Through great public acceptance, it has become one of the most famous images of JFK, including use on a 1988 postage stamp issued in Ireland. In 2014, the artist gave the portrait as a partial gift and partial purchase to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Harper’s Magazine engaged Wyeth as a court artist for the Watergate hearings and trials that included US Senate and the Supreme Court proceedings regarding the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, including the tense courtroom scenes in Judge John J. Sirica’s trial of John Ehrlichman, G. Gordon Liddy, and other Watergate defendants.
In New York during the 1970s, Wyeth painted President-elect Jimmy Carter.

In 1984 he painted Night Vision to commemorate the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This piece depicts a soldier of the Vietnam era as though seen through a Starlight scope or similar night vision device. It was later reproduced as a signed limited edition and sold to benefit the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, colloquially known as “The Wall”.

source: Jamie Wyeth on Wikipedia