The exhibition of Jamie Wyeth’s 2007 series of paintings, The Seven Deadly Sins, is a rare example of a contemporary artist taking on a subject long associated with the history of Christian art. The subject’s focus is human frailty, specifically the sins of pride, envy, anger, greed, sloth, gluttony, and lust, codified as the seven deadly sins in the writings of the late thirteenth-century Dominican, Saint Thomas Aquinas. Dante dealt with the theme in his famed Divine Comedy and Chaucer in his The Canterbury Tales, as did Shakespeare’s contemporary, playwright Christopher Marlowe. Perhaps the most famous painted treatment of the subject is that of the sixteenth-century Dutch painter, Hieronymous Bosch. By the twentieth century, however, the subject had disappeared from artists’ repertoires, only to be revived in the 1930s by the playwright Bertolt Brecht, and choreographer George Balanchine.
It was Cadmus’ surreal 1945-49 paintings of the seven deadly sins that inspired Jamie Wyeth, decades after first seeing them, to do his own series of paintings on the theme. Wyeth’s take on the subject, however, is characteristically his own – the sins are acted out by seagulls, birds the artist has observed for decades along the coast of Maine and from his studios on Monhegan and Southern islands. As he noted in an interview for the exhibition, “gulls are nasty birds, filled with their own jealousies and rivalries….” The exhibition will focus on these seven paintings, accompanied by written and visual materials that place Wyeth’s work within the subject’s long iconographic history. Shown for the first time since their premier in New York in 2007, they will be on view in the Wyeth Center from May 16 through August 30 before traveling to the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Wyeth’s monumental painting, Inferno, Monhegan, will also be included. Organized by Farnsworth Interim Director & Chief Curator Michael K. Komanecky, the exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue.
Jamie Wyeth—Seven Deadly Sins has been organized by the Farnsworth Art Museum with the cooperation of the Brandywine River Museum. It is funded in part by generous gifts from Mrs. Douglas Auchincloss; the Michael and Elizabeth Dingman Foundation and Adelson Galleries, New York. The primary media sponsor for Jamie Wyeth—Seven Deadly Sins is Down East magazine, books, & online.