On Fire: Jamie Wyeth's "Seven Deadly Sins"

  • July 20, 2009 19:09

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Jamie Wyeth Pride (Detail), 2008, Combined mediums on hand-wove, toned paper mounted on archival board, Private collection, Courtesy Adelson Galleries, NYC
Farnsworth Art Museum
Detail of Bosch painting of sinners

What's hot with museum-goers this summer? Images evoking the sins of pride, envy, anger, greed, sloth, gluttony, and lust. A fresh look at human frailty is on view at the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine, through August 30th, in the powerful series of Jamie Wyeth paintings titled "The Seven Deadly Sins."

Free of the iconography associated with historical Christian art, Wyeth gives the subject of sin a new twist. Seagulls, a species the artist has long observed from his Maine studio, act out the sins in dramatic tableaux.

Wyeth explained in the exhibition catalog that “gulls are nasty birds, filled with their own jealousies and rivalries….”

First outlined in the writings of the late thirteenth-century Dominican, Saint Thomas Aquinas, the seven deadly sins have been spicing up literature and art for centuries. The theme has been famously pondered by Dante and Chaucer.

Artwork most associated with these transgressions are the didactic triptychs of sixteenth-century Dutch painter Hieronymous Bosch, who depicted some outrageous instances of sinful behaviour, and brutal consequences for humankind's waywardness. While Bosch's work remains well-known today, by the early twentieth century, religious subject matter became the kiss of death for many artists' careers.

Jamie Wyeth, Envy, is part of the series. Courtesy of Adelson Galleries.
Portland Press Herald

Tackling this concept of sin with certain gusto, Wyeth has created seven intense and successful works that are characteristically his own. He says the inspiration came from Paul Cadmus’ surreal 1945-49 paintings.

The series premiered in New York in 2007, is on view in the Farnsworth's Wyeth Center from May 16 through August 30, 2009, then traveling to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. An illustrated catalog accompanies the exhibition.

View the related NECN segment "Many moods of Maine; the art of Jamie Wyeth" here.

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