Apr 26, 2014

N.C., Andrew, and Jamie Wyeth: 3 Generations of Gay Art

N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945), who incorporated male nudes into many of his children's book illustrations, was very conflicted about same-sex desire.

His youngest son Andrew (1917-2009), one of the most famous artists of the twentieth century, not so much.

Andrew is best known for Christina's World (1948), which depicts a young woman lying on a vast field, looking at a farmhouse in the distance, condemned by the isolation and misery of rural life (a theme similar to American Gothic, by gay regionalist Grant Wood).


He was a devotee of female beauty.  One of his favorite models was "Helga," a German woman who lived near the Wyeth farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.  But later in life, he occasionally devoted himself to the homoerotics of everyday life.

The Clearing (1979) depicts a similar rural world, but not with isolation and misery: a muscular, tanned, naked man, his long hair blowing in the wind, stands with arms akimbo, inviting us to join him.

Man and the Moon (1990) shows the nude backside of a muscular motorcyclist.






Andrew's son Jamie (born in 1946) is completely nonchalant about gay identity.  Although he has followed in his father's footsteps as a regionalist, depicting landscapes, houses, and farm animals, he has also painted nude and semi-nude beefcake icons such as artist Andy Warhol, bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger  (top photo) and dancer Rudolph Nureyev.











As well as a series of paintings of the wild men and boys of Monhegan Island, Maine, especially the teenage Orca Bates.















When he was researching a portrait of the late President in 1967, Jamie found himself returning again and again to John F. Kennedy's life-long friend Lem Billings.  He finally drew a man who was gay, or who at least understood the beauty of same-sex desire: "under the surface of the paint is a portrait of Lem Billings."