Julia on the Swing, 1999 signed 'J. Wyeth' (lower left) oil on canvas 60 x 40in (152.4 x 101.6cm)
PROVENANCE: The artist. Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1999.
This work is included in the database of the artist's work being compiled by the Wyeth Center at the William A. Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine.
For almost a century, the Wyeth family has cast an influential shadow on the American art world. Three generations of wildly successful painters, each displays a particular talent for capturing personalities and the simplest moments in life through their art. The family has resided in Maine since the 1930s, and much of their oeuvre includes elements of the surrounding landscape and sea, making the Wyeth name almost synonymous with the state.
In Julia on the Swing, a child playfully swings from a tree in her own backyard. A carefree image at first glance, it becomes circumspect upon further consideration of the raking light, which transforms the tree into an ominous glyph separating this child from the security of home as storm clouds gather. The artist sets up a dynamic contrast between the starkly lit farmhouse and child against the flat, nearly black, Franz Kline-like abstraction of the tree. This ambiguous, open-ended atmosphere is often considered to be one of Jamie Wyeth's most artistic qualities yet it can be difficult for the unfamiliar viewer. In each generation of the Wyeth artists' works, and in Jamie's in particular, dreamlike imagery is paramount while also intertwined with obsessive detail and 'ordinary' subjects. Julia on the Swing is a perfect example, while also acknowledging the illustrative style of N.C. Wyeth. Illustration as a genre relies on theatrical effects to convey emotion an essential quality in Jamie's oeuvre. As curator S.C. Larsen says, "James Wyeth understands the uniqueness of human beings and the unspoken mystery of individual personalities. His sense of drama is instinctive and often reminiscent of the complex staging of Howard Pyle or the dramatic compressed images of [his] grandfather."