Misunderstood Art: Jamie Wyeth's Masterpiece in a Closet

In Italy, the best museums are ignored by tourists, in America, a fantastic portrait is relegated to a closet. Only now, it's coming out of obscurity because suddenly the public realizes that Jamie Wyeth, the gifted son of Andrew Wyeth is as great an artist as his father.

Done in 1963 when Jamie Wyeth was still a young upstart, it is the portrait of a famous woman doctor, universally considered a pioneer and the founder of pediatric cardiology, Helen. B. Taussig (for her biography, click here). She was a strong woman, extraordinarily bright and gifted, and it shows. The portrait is an amazing psychological analysis as well as esthetically remarkable - the colors, the rendering of the flesh, the striking blue eyes, the fuzzy hair:

And here's the portrait's story in the Johns Hopkins Magazine published in 2011 (it shows the above photo of the portrait), to see click here

This week the New York Times picked the story up again as now the artistic value of the portrait is finally recognized because Jamie Wyeth has finally achieved fame, see here.

Why all the fuss?

Because, back in 1963, the good doctor and her friends at Johns Hopkins didn't feel the painter had done justice to her. She was universally seen as a good woman - and she was, no doubt about that - but the painter had caught something that was not so visible to everyone: her determination, her strength, her keen intelligence and capacity to observe/analyze, and also the angst that inevitably accompanies pioneering work. What eyes!

Compare the portrait to her official photo (on Wikipedia and elsewhere):

See what I mean? The portrait tells a real story, the photo tells a cliché version. 

Even a well done but more conventional portrait (made in 1981 by Patric Bauernschmidt - it's shown in the NYT article) misses the point about Dr. Taussig:

What do you think? Is Jamie Wyeth's a bad portrait or a good one from an artistic point of view?

Wyeth has made his reputation as a landscape, still life and animal artist rather than as a portraitist (to see his work, click here)...He complained that people do not see themselves as the artist does and therefore did very few portraits - and I can't disagree with him on that...I've tried my hand at portraits, and there's no doubt that a portrait is by far exceedingly difficult to pull off successfully - and very rarely to the satisfaction of the sitter! 

By the way, that is also a point I make in Crimson Clouds, my novel about a retiree-turned-artist to the dismay of his wife. Portraits are psychological exercises, tough to carry out and particularly tough when it's a self-portrait: it's very hard to see oneself objectively!

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