JFK Portrait by Jamie Wyeth Lands at MFA Boston

Commissioned by the Kennedys, it will hang in the artist's first retrospective.

Jamie Wyeth, Portrait of John F. Kennedy (1967), recently acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Photo: courtesy the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has acquired Jamie Wyeth‘s Portrait of John F. Kennedy (1967), a posthumous portrait of the late president commissioned by members of his family including Jacqueline and Robert Kennedy, the Boston Globe reports.

Though the artist never met Kennedy in person, Wyeth extensively studied biographies, photographs, and film footage of the late president (including the infamous Zapruder film capturing Kennedy’s assassination) for months before beginning his work. He even joined JFK’s younger brothers, senators Robert and Edward Kennedy, on the campaign trail to pick up on shared family traits and mannerisms.

Creating the portrait became a two-year project for the 20-year-old artist, with countless preparatory drawings. “I wanted the President’s face so engraved on my mind that I could place him in any situation I wanted,” Wyeth said in a 1968 interview with LOOK magazine.

“Jamie Wyeth’s posthumous Portrait of John F. Kennedy vividly demonstrates his remarkable ability, at such a young age, to distill both a physical likeness and a psychological awareness from a range of sources,” said the MFA’s art of the Americas chair, Elliot Bostwick Davis, in a press release.

The canvas, which has always been in the artist’s private collection, is joining the MFA collection as a partial gift from Wyeth and his wife, Phyllis, and a partial purchase. Portrait of John F. Kennedy will appear at the museum’s upcoming exhibition “Jamie Wyeth,” the first career retrospective for the painter, curated by Davis.


Painter Jamie Wyeth.
Photo: Bob O’Connor, The Wall Street Journal.

 A Strong Collection of Presidential Portraits 

The work is the first by Jamie Wyeth in the museum’s collection, although it owns 15 pieces by the artist’s father, Andrew Wyeth. The MFA also boasts a strong collection of presidential portraits of George Washington, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln by artists including Gilbert Stuart, John Singleton Copley, and Thomas Sully.

“It is especially fitting that the first work we acquire by Jamie is this portrayal of Massachusetts’ beloved Senator, who would later become President, and that its home will be the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston,” said the museum’s director, Malcolm Rogers, in a press release.

Wyeth’s iconic Kennedy portrait will join three photographs and one medal depicting the late president that are already in the museum’s collection. Yousuf Karsh’s (1908–2002) striking black and white photo John F. Kennedy (1960) is included in the exhibition “Magna Carta: Cornerstone of Liberty,” on view through September 1.

“Jamie Wyeth,” which includes Portrait of John F. Kennedy, is on view at the MFA from July 16–December 28, 2014, and will subsequently travel to Pennsylvania’s Brandywine River Museum of Art (January 16–April 5, 2015), the San Antonio Museum of Art (April 26–July 5, 2015), and Arkansas’ Crystal Bridges Museum of Art (July 23–October 4, 2015).

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