Wyeth’s Portraits of Rudolf Nureyev: Images of the Dancer from the Brandywine River Museum of Art will open Saturday, Oct. 11, and will continue through Sunday, Jan. 18, 2015, at the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St Petersburg, FL.
This exhibition will feature 19 stellar examples, along with three sketchbooks, five costumes, and even a pair of Nureyev’s Capezio ballet slippers. Three paintings are large-scale.
Jennifer Hardin, Hazel and William Hough chief curator and a specialist in American art, has selected the works in close consultation with the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. The Brandywine has one of the most important collections of art by members of the Wyeth family.
On Sunday, Oct. 12, at 3 p.m. Dr. Amanda C. Burdan, associate curator at the Brandywine, will present a Collectors Circle lecture, “Wyeth and Nureyev, a Grande Révérence,” which is free and open to the public with MFA admission.
In his portraits of Nureyev, Wyeth created a painted version of a ballet révérence, the sequence of steps performed at the end of every class to demonstrate the dancers’ esteem for their instructor. Burdan will look at Wyeth’s methods and interpretive choices as he attempted to capture the essence of Nureyev and his artistry.
The exhibition opening will also coincide with the Florida premiere of David Rush’s play, “Nureyev’s Eyes,” at American Stage Theatre Company. The award-winning playwright imagines what the encounters and conversations may have been like between Jamie Wyeth and Rudolf Nureyev. Rush conducted extensive research in writing his play and studied Wyeth’s work at the Brandywine. The limited two-week run is set for Wednesday, Oct. 15, through Sunday, Oct. 26. For tickets, visit www.americanstage.org.
About the artist
James Browning (Jamie) Wyeth is the son of Andrew Wyeth and grandson of N.C. Wyeth. Other relatives are also talented artists. In fact, Jamie Wyeth left public school after the sixth grade to study art in a rigorous way with his Aunt Carolyn, as well as other subjects with private tutors. His father would also critique his work. Later, Andrew would seek Jamie’s reaction to his own paintings. Unlike his father who preferred egg tempera and watercolor, Jamie has always loved the “juiciness” of oil.
By the time he was 18, Wyeth was represented in noted public and private collections. He met Nureyev in 1974 through Renaissance man Lincoln Kirstein, co-founder of the New York City Ballet whose portrait he painted. He praised the then teenager as “the finest American portrait painter since the death of John Singer Sargent.”
As a young man in New York, Wyeth studied anatomy in the Harlem Hospital morgue and also frequented Andy Warhol’s Factory. The two artists painted portraits of each other, which were shown in a 1976 exhibition at the Coe-Kerr Gallery. Among his many other telling portraits are those of Presidents John F. Kennedy (commissioned by family members after his death) and Jimmy Carter, his wife Phyllis and father Andrew, people in Chadds Ford, even family dogs and livestock. At 20, he had an impressive solo exhibition at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is currently presenting a retrospective of more than 100 works, which is attracting large crowds and was featured in the August issue of Vanity Fair.
Wyeth completed his Nureyev portraits, including posthumous works, between 1977 and 2001. He did not set out to capture Nureyev performing. In fact, most of the portraits capture the artist at a still point, though still radiating extraordinary energy and concentration. Paintings like “Nureyev – Don Quixote – White Background,” “Mort de Noureev” and “Curtain Call” all completed in 2001 after the dancer’s death, are particularly poignant.
In a 2002 New York Times interview with Mel Gussow, Wyeth called Nureyev “a phantom figure.” He followed the dancer around, attending rehearsals, watching him putting on his makeup, sketching from the wings. Even though the process was intense, the two became friends.
Wyeth’s Portraits of Rudolf Nureyev features both the study for and the Don Quixote Poster (1977/2003) and an ethereal painting of the dancer against a white background (2001) in a ballet which loomed large in his career. He produced the first full-length version of Don Quixote in the West. His gorgeous tunic for the ballet is also included in the MFA exhibition, which is full of wonderful surprises like this. To see Rudolf Nureyev through the eyes of Jamie Wyeth is a rare privilege.
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