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 Pine Tree State.
Works by Jamie Wyeth – grandson of N.C. Wyeth and son of Andrew – will be featured in the October sale of an Important New England Collector. One of the highlights is Julia on a Swing, in which 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 a 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."
The sale includes further works by Jamie Wyeth including the painting Me and My Vulture, which is representative of the artist's bird subjects and consistent with his interest in animal life. N.C. Wyeth will also be represented with Rocky Shore which most likely depicts the coastline near the Wyeth summer home in Port Clyde, Maine. A selection of works by other Maine artists such as Abraham Bogdanove, Andrew Winter and Peter Poskas also feature, as do various Americana, Maritime and 20th-century decorative arts among the 800 lots offered.
Alan Fausel is Vice President and Director of Fine Art at Bonhams.