Brandywine River Museum

Chadds Ford, PA



One Nation: Patriots and Pirates Portrayed by N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth


History, politics and art collide in a new exhibition of works by renowned illustrator N.C. Wyeth and his grandson, James Wyeth, at the Brandywine River Museum.

One Nation: Patriots and Pirates Portrayed by N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth brings together approximately 80 drawings and paintings that challenge viewers to find their own definitions of "patriot" and "pirate," primarily in the political arena. The collected works of the two artists, a generation apart, also chronicle the changing attitude of the nation regarding "patriotism" from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

Between 1912 and 1945, when N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945) was extremely productive, the United States was embroiled in two world wars. Wyeth, whose illustrations have been traditionally viewed as quintessentially "American," was called upon by the U.S. government to create images and propaganda posters depicting Uncle Sam and brave fighting troops during World War I and World War II, in effect creating symbols of patriotism.

N.C. Wyeth also illustrated books such as Poems of American Patriotism, Cease Firing and The Long Roll depicting historical figures such as Paul Revere, George Washington and Stonewall Jackson. (left: N.C. Wyeth, Buy War Bonds)

Growing up, James Wyeth (b. 1946) encountered a nation unlike the one his grandfather had known. He came of age in a time of turmoil when both the attitudes of the nation and the definition of patriotism were often different. Being "patriotic" meant marching in protest as well as marching off to war.

As an acclaimed painter himself, James Wyeth witnessed and recorded momentous events that defined the attitudes of the nation, such as Vietnam, Watergate and NASA's journeys into space. One of his best-known portraits, Draft Age, depicts a young man in a black leather jacket and dark sunglasses, the picture of defiant youth during the Vietnam era. Gradually, Wyeth fostered a close relationship with people in Washington, painting a posthumous but nonetheless defining portrait of President John F. Kennedy, apparently in a moment of indecision. Robert Kennedy said the painting made him think of the way his brother had looked during the Bay of Pigs invasion. During the 1974 Watergate trials and congressional hearings, Wyeth was present as a commissioned artist for Harper's Magazine, recording events as they unfolded. He also became a participating artist in the "Eyewitness to Space" program, recording spacecraft launchings for NASA. (right: James Wyeth, Islanders)

Sponsored by the MBNA Foundation, One Nation: Patriots and Pirates Portrayed by N.C. Wyeth and James Wyeth is an exploration as well as a celebration of 20th-century America. Continuing through September 3, 2001 the innocence and deceit, promise and disappointment faced in the 20th century come alive in the vibrant art of two generations of Wyeths.

Accompanying the exhibition is a book featuring 65 color plates and 41 back and white plates by these two artists, some never before reproduced. Essays by Tom Brokaw, NBC Nightly News journalist and author of The Greatest Generation and The Greatest Generation Speaks; David Michaelis author of N.C. Wyeth: A Biography; and Lauren Raye Smith, Wyeth Center Curator, explore the topic in depth.


Read more about the Brandywine River Museum in Resource Library Magazine

For further biographical information on selected artists cited above please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.

This page was originally published in Resource Library Magazine. Please see Resource Library's Overview section for more information. rev. 5/28/11

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2011 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.