NC Wyeth, On the Isle of Erraid. 1913. Oil on canvas, 101.5 x 81.2 cm. Private collection

The Wyeths: The only family who didn’t fight at Christmas

Having all the members of a family work the same trade surely must generate dinner conversation topics about how to develop the artistic craft. Three generations of some of the most famous American painters lived under the same roof for a number of years. To them, painting was just what they did, like any other families of doctors, lawyers, teachers or carpenters.  I am talking, of course, of the Wyeths: NC, Caroline, Andrew, and Jamie.

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The fame of the Wyeth family began when Newell Convers Wyeth started creating illustrations for children’s classics, patriotic poems, and magazine stories. When raising his children—Caroline and Andrew—he instilled this love for art in them. Although his daughter Caroline did not produce anything significant outside of her personal paintings and drawings, she continued the tradition by teaching young students. His son Andrew attained prominence for his all-American themes and realistic works, becoming the one of the most acclaimed American artists until his death in 2009. They kept it in the family: Andrew’s son Jamie studied art with his aunt Caroline and later gained notoriety for his portraits of animals and people.

NC Wyeth, On the Isle of Erraid. 1913. Oil on canvas, 101.5 x 81.2 cm. Private collection
NC Wyeth, On the Isle of Erraid. 1913. Oil on canvas, 101.5 x 81.2 cm. Private collection

Their art has always been considered a family thing, each person’s work embodying the same brand of American realism. Though, they have been nevertheless criticized by some for abandoning forms of postmodernism. However, their profound symbolism permeates all layers of American society: from beloved children books passed down through the generations, presidential portraits, stamps available in every post office.

Andrew Wyeth, Christina’s World. 1948.
Tempera on panel, 81.9 x 121.3 cm. Museum of Modern Art, New York

Such a family imbued by fame and public praise could only have lively and refined discussions at the table during Christmas, right? That’s how I imagine them at least. Holding glasses of wine while lifting their little fingers, fondling the mustaches they probably didn’t have, and taking turns to offer their aesthetically cultured opinions. Or, they could just be like the rest of us: tipsy at holiday parties and slightly aggressive with each other at family gatherings.

Jamie Wyeth, John F. Kennedy. 1967. Oil on canvas, 40.6 x 73.7 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Jamie Wyeth, John F. Kennedy. 1967. Oil on canvas, 40.6 x 73.7 cm. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Find out more about the most beloved family of American artists in the exhibition “Wyeth: Andrew and Jamie in the Studio” starting on 08/11/2015 at the Denver Art Museum. Or check out our books 1000 Drawings of Genius and American Realism.