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  • A portrait of the artist’s beloved wife, Phyllis, Excursion Boats, Monhegan is an intimate portrayal of Jamie Wyeth’s summers spent on Monhegan Island in Maine. Acquired just a year after it was created in 1983, Excursion Boats is a masterful example of Wyeth’s enigmatic, narrative approach to painting. One of a handful of works featuring Phyllis as muse, this work has been extensively exhibited, signifying its importance in the artist’s body of work. Notably, it was included in the seminal exhibition organized by the Brandywine River Museum, An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, which traveled internationally from Russia to Washington, D.C., to Tokyo and Milan, and back to Chadds Ford, the artist’s hometown.

     

     

    The Third Generation Wyeth 

     

    Born in 1946 to renowned painter Andrew Wyeth and his wife Betsy, Jamie was raised by a legacy of American storytellers. His grandfather, N.C. Wyeth, was a celebrated illustrator, while Andrew came to be known for his distinct style of realism during a time when abstraction was taking hold of the mid-century art world. Throughout his childhood, Jamie spent time in N.C.’s studio painting various objects, through which he discovered his own unique mode of storytelling—one that combined the illustrative qualities of N.C.’s paintings with the enigmatic qualities of Andrew’s work. 

     

    After a short stint in New York City in the mid-1960s, Jamie then joined the United States Air Force. It was during this time that he married his wife of over 50 years, Phyllis. Together, they purchased a home on Monhegan Island—one that previously belonged to fellow artist Rockwell Kent—where they would spend their summers.

    "Although Jamie’s settings may look like the Brandywine Valley or Midcoast Maine of his father’s works, they are more a scenic backdrop for his quirky sensibility, which seeks out overlooked or peculiar objects, such as docking posts, plow blades, buzz saws, storage tanks, or sewer pipes. One can look at his compositions as if they were repurposed accidental photographs; unintended compositions fraught with meaning."
    —Timothy Standring

    Jamie and Phyllis: Husband and Wife, Muse and Painter 

     

    Phyllis, the daughter of James and Alice du Pont Mills, and Jamie married in 1968, and remained together up until her recent passing in 2019. A passionate breeder and owner of thoroughbred-horses, Phyllis was, like Jamie, a lover of animals and nature. Last year, the Brandywine River Museum of Art organized a tribute exhibition called Phyllis Mills Wyeth: A Celebration. At an event surrounding the exhibition, Jamie shared a conversation he once had with his father. He asked Andrew why he painted, to which he replied “Well, Jamie, I paint for myself.” Jamie said he thought the same of his own practice, until recently he declared “Now I know I was painting for Phyllis.”i  

    "Now I know I was painting for Phyllis."
    —Jamie Wyeth

     

    Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth, 1971
    Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth, 1971.

    Phyllis has appeared in many of Jamie’s important works, the most notable of which were created during the 1970s and 1980s, including Excursion Boats, Monhegan. Oftentimes, Phyllis does not appear necessarily to be the subject of these paintings—whether it is the horse-drawn carriage she drives as in And Then into the Deep Gorge, 1975 or her lone straw hat as in Wolfbane, 1984, Brandywine River Museum of Art. In Excursion Boats, Jamie’s admiration for both his wife and their second home of Monhegan is intrinsically linked. Depicted in a wicker wheelchair—Phyllis’s mode of transportation for most of her adult life, having been injured in a car accident in her 20s—she sits looking out at the harbor of passing ferryboats, taking visitors to and from the islet. Wearing the straw hat which appears time and time again throughout Jamie’s paintings, she exudes poise, confidence, and serenity.  

    "I was attracted by the peculiarities of an 'Atlantic City Rolling Chair' sitting on an off-shore Maine island. The background was my 'statement' on the many tourist boats that visit Monhegan during the summer."
    —Jamie Wyeth

    Monhegan 

     

    The stony islet of Monhegan is located halfway up the coast of Maine. Unlike the mainland, it is a port town full of lush greenery, illustrated here so beautifully in the grass ground on which Phyllis’s wicker chair rests. At the time when Jamie and Phyllis lived in Monhegan, the island connected to the coast of Maine only three times a week by boat. As Lincoln Kirstein aptly described of the town, “Remoteness and alienation intensified its atmosphere, bared to the bone…Half-deserted, disheartened, the island’s inhabitants slowly diminish. The few visitors a week cross over for a couple hours and depart with little gained or seen but a few souvenirs.”ii

     

     

    Such remoteness is brilliantly captured here, illustrated through the distance between Phyllis and the boats at sea beyond where she sits. A foggy horizon line below her eyelevel suggests a world far away from the serenity of Monhegan, and yet the pops of red found in the flags on the back of each boat grounds the viewer in a quintessential American landscape. Through close inspection of Excursion Boats, Monhegan, it is easy to see why Jamie and Phyllis were drawn to the island’s beauty. In a time of over-stimulation, such a desire to live off the beaten path is ever more relatable.  

    "Living and working on an island does tend to give you focus. Like everyone, I want to see every new movie, every new play, and read every book. We are in the age of so much information that I find it overwhelming. So to physically isolate myself, I think works to my advantage. It at least helps me concentrate and get some focus and, living on an island really does that. You can’t just jump in a car and drive off, nor can someone just arrive and say, ‘Hi, I’m here Jamie!’" 
    —Jamie Wyeth

    i Claudia Pfeiffer, “Phyllis Mills Wyeth Comes Home,” Drawing Covert, February 18, 2020, online.
    ii Lincoln Kirstein, exh. cat., An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, Brandywine River Museum, Chadds Ford, 1987, p. 158.

    • Provenance

      Coe Kerr Gallery, New York
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1983

    • Exhibited

      Portland Museum of Art; Columbia Museum; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Art Center, Jamie Wyeth: An American View, June 19, 1984–January 20, 1985, no. 27, p. 37
      Leningrad, Academy of the Arts of the USSR; Moscow, Academy of the Arts of the USSR; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; Dallas Museum of Art; Chicago, Terra Museum of American Art; Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum; Milan, Palazzo Reale; Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum; Chadds Ford, Brandywine River Museum, An American Vision: Three Generations of Wyeth Art, March 11, 1987–November 22, 1988, no. 106, pp. 179, 205 (illustrated, p. 179)
      Anchorage, Artique Ltd. Fine Art Gallery, Jamie Wyeth in Alaska Exhibition of Original Paintings and Etchings, March 11–April 11, 1993
      Rockland, The Farnsworth Art Museum, Jamie Wyeth: Islands, June 27–August 22, 1993, no. 9

    • Literature

      Rachel Dickinson, American Dynasties: A History of Founding and Influential American Families, Lanham, 2021, p. 169

Property of a New England Collector

119

Excursion Boats, Monhegan

signed "J. WYETH" lower left
mixed media on paper, mounted to board
25 1/4 x 36 5/8 in. (64.1 x 93 cm)
Executed in 1982, this work is included in the database of the artist’s work being compiled by the Wyeth Center at the William A. Farnsworth Museum, Rockland, Maine.

Full Cataloguing

Estimate
$250,000 - 450,000 

Sold for $277,200

Contact Specialist

John McCord
Head of Day Sale, Morning Session, New York
+1 212 940 1261
[email protected]

20th Century & Contemporary Art Day Sale - Morning Session

New York Auction 18 November 2021