James (Jamie) Browning Wyeth was born on July 6, 1946, in Wilmington, Delaware, just south of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where he grew up and still lives part of each year. His mother is Betsy (James) Wyeth; he has an older brother, Nicholas. Jamie has since adolescence attracted considerable attention as a third-generation American artist: son of Andrew Wyeth, among the country's most popular painters, and the grandson of Newell Convers Wyeth, famous for his distinctive illustrations for the classic novels by Stevenson, Cooper, and Scott. "Everybody in my family paints - excluding possibly the dogs," says Jamie Wyeth. And non-human subjects are a common theme: long a sensitive observer of his rural surroundings, he paints livestock and other animals with the same care and intensity he devotes to portraits of people. He won precocious fame, in fact, with Portrait of Pig, his picture of a pink and white sow. The technical facility Wyeth showed even in his early work helps explain why his first one-man show in New York happened when he was only 20, and a retrospective in Omaha, Nebraska, occurred before his 30th birthday.
By the time he was 18, Wyeth's paintings hung in the permanent collections of the Wilmington Society of Art in Wilmington, Delaware, and in the William A. Farnsworth Library and Art Museum in Rockland, Maine - as well as in several private collections. He'd begun to paint portraits in oils, including works that still stand among his most powerful, such as Draft Age and Shorty. Wyeth examined all aspects of the appearance and character of the people he painted.
Meanwhile, Jamie Wyeth's work had become more widely known, having been shown alongside his father's and grandfather's at an exhibition in 1971 at the newly opened Brandywine River Museum at Chadds Ford, a handsome building had been converted from an old grist mill by the nonprofit Brandywine Conservancy formed to save the area from overdevelopment. A highlight of the show was the younger Wyeth's meticulously executed Portrait of Pig, which spans seven by five feet. Wyeth has since created many other "portraits" of animals, ranging from Newfoundland (1971) to The Raven (1980).