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N.C. Wyeth (American, 1882–1945), , Rebel Jerry and Yankee Jake

N.C. Wyeth (American, 1882–1945), , Rebel Jerry and Yankee Jake

Item Description:

N.C. Wyeth (American, 1882–1945)
Rebel Jerry and Yankee Jake
Signed 'N.C. WYETH' bottom left, oil on canvas
34 x 25 in. (86.4 x 63.5cm)
Executed circa 1930-1931.
PROVENANCE:
The Artist.
The Artist's widow, Mrs. N.C. Wyeth, until 1950.
Collection of Wallace and Rena Bostwick.
By descent in the family.
Private Collection, Florida.
LITERATURE:
John Fox, Jr., The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1931, "Brother Against Brother," p. 26 (illustrated).
Richard Layton, "Inventory of Paintings in the Wyeth Studio," [unpublished], 1950, in Wyeth Family Archives, p. 33.
Douglas Allen, Jr., N. C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, 1972, p. 205.
Christine B. Podmaniczky, N. C. Wyeth, A Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings, Scala, London, 2008, I.1164, p. 535 (illustrated).
NOTE:
Considered one of America's greatest illustrators of the 20th century, N. C. Wyeth garnered considerable acclaim for his work with the publishing company Charles Scribner's Sons, particularly for his compelling illustrations of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island in 1911. Rebel Jerry and Yankee Jake was executed in 1931, some 20 years after the artist's first commission for the publishing company's popular series of classical stories. The painting served as an illustration for John Fox, Jr.'s The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come, another successful Scribner book published in 1903.
Set during the years of the Civil War, the best-selling novel follows the adventures of Chad Buford, an orphan from Kentucky who escapes his fate as an indentured servant by seeking refuge in the mountains with his faithful dog Jack. There, he is adopted by a family of modest means who gradually welcomes him as a valuable member of their clan. While Wyeth's other illustrations focus on the hero of the story, the present work depicts a dramatic knife fight between Jerry and Jake Dillon, two "giant brothers" from a neighboring family. Presented as rivals from the story's onset, the twin brothers harbor a profound hatred towards each other, further encouraged by Kingdom Come's entire community. Indeed, the simple mention of their names is followed by the promise of an epic battle, bound to determine the ultimate victor: "'Some o' these days,' said the old Squire, 'that fool Jake's a-goin' to pick up somethin' an' knock that mean Jerry's head off. I wonder he hain't done it afore. Hit's funny how brothers can hate when they do git to hatin'.'" First described as a family feud caused by personal resentment, the brothers' rivalry quickly evolves into a quarrel fueled by irreconcilable political beliefs as one brother embraces the Union's side while the other chooses to remain a Rebel. Their battle thus encapsulates the larger tragedy that befell the American Nation, whose citizens-formerly unified brothers-turned against each other.
In this painting, N. C. Wyeth presents us with the most highly anticipated moment when Jake and Jerry, who had been endlessly looking for each other, finally meet in the Kentucky mountains: "'I been lookin' fer ye a long while,' said Jake, simply, and he smiled strangely as he moved slowly forward and looked down at his enemy-his heavy head wagging from side to side. Jerry was fumbling at his belt. The big knife flashed, but Jake's hand was as quick as its gleam, and he had the wrist that held it. His great fingers crushed together, the blade dropped on the ground, and again the big twins looked at each other. Slowly, Yankee Jake picked up the knife. The other moved not a muscle and in his fierce eyes was no plea for mercy. The point of the blade moved slowly down-down over the rebel's heart and was thrust into its sheath again. Then Jake let go the wrist." Against all odds, and although he had the upper hand, Yankee Jake finally decides to spare his brother's life. The two eventually reconcile on the battlefield and present a unified front when the time comes to say goodbye to the hero, Chad, who leaves Kingdom Come with his fiancée-a happy ending true to the author's romantic and pacifist views.

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