Jamie Wyeth’s Show at the Brandywine Museum of Art Is a Must-See

A new exhibit at Brandywine River Museum of Art takes a deep dive into the creative psyche of Andrew Wyeth’s son.

Without a doubt, Jamie Wyeth’s work is quite different from that of his father, Andrew, and grandfather, N.C. “It wasn’t as if he had a weird phase in the early ’60s or ’70s, and that’s where it all is. His work has been a little bit strange throughout his career,” says Amanda Burdan, senior curator at Brandywine Museum of Art.

Burdan is heading up Wyeth’s potent new show, Unsettled, which runs through June 9 at the museum. The exhibition traces the persistent string of intriguing, often disconcerting imagery over Wyeth’s career. “There’s a short drive between obsession and unsettling—when you realize something has become obsessive,” Burdan says. “There’s maybe some psychology to that.”

Wyeth prefers to paint in solitude at his studios in Maine and Chadds Ford. His parents purchased Southern Island, at the mouth of Tenants Harbor, in 1978, and Wyeth also owns Rockwell Kent’s former cottage on Monhegan Island. His Brandywine Valley property is tucked away on its own sort of island—an isolated farm at the end of a long driveway. “When I was young, I always wanted to live on a boat—and an island is sort of a boat,” Wyeth says. “You can see the perimeters of your world. It’s a microcosm.”

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“Bones of a Whale.”
“Bones of a Whale.” Courtesy of Brandywine River Museum of Art.

Wyeth talks of his affinity for his grandfather’s studio, describing it as a wonderland filled with uniforms, cutlasses, spyglasses and other things that appeared in N.C.’s illustrations for books like Treasure Island. “I’d walk up the hill to his studio and trudge down the hill to Daddy’s studio. He was working on grass and dead birds,” Wyeth recalls. “That didn’t interest me. As an 8-year-old, I wanted knights in armor.”

Wyeth also credits his Aunt Carolyn, daughter of N.C., as an early inspiration. “She really was a very peculiar person. Her work is intensely personal—very strong stuff,” he says. “When her father died, she sort of assumed him—she started wearing his clothes. That’s when I first knew her.”

Burdan describes Carolyn Wyeth’s paintings as “off-kilter.” “When Jamie embraces that aspect, he always looks more like Carolyn,” she says. “I see Jamie’s paintings as pivotal scenes of film—the moment the suspect is revealed, the moment of most danger, establishing shots where you’re about to walk into the house.”

To that end, Wyeth recalls something Stephen King told him after purchasing one of his paintings: “Jamie, you’re one of the scariest painters I know.”

Visit brandywine.org/museum.

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