The subject is pretty and historic, but how far can you take pretty and historic?

"It always has to be of the White House or some part of it," said artist Jamie Wyeth yesterday about the White House Christmas card, which he designed this year. "The difficult thing is, what the hell do you do with the White House? It's not exactly an unknown object.

"The little squirrel may add a little something," he said hopefully.

The White House released a photograph of the Reagans' 1984 Christmas card yesterday and, yes, it showed the White House. The illustration is a reproduction of a painting by Wyeth, whose work also appeared on the Reagans' 1981 card. Titled "Christmas Morning at the White House," the painting shows a dawn view of the North Portico of the White House with that all-important little squirrel leaving a winding path of paw prints across a lawn covered deep in newly fallen snow.

"I walked around and looked all around," he said. "It was during the summer -- not very Christmasy. I created a little snow, which would, of course, be about six feet deep in real life."

Wyeth said Nancy Reagan asked him to do the card at a state dinner earlier this year.

"I was a little hesitant," he said. "My idea was to do it the first time and for a different young American artist to do it each year. Then they sort of picked an interior decorator to do it the next time." Hallmark printed about 250,000 cards at cost and the Republican National Committee paid the printing and mailing costs. The cards go to members of the Cabinet, Congress, the judiciary, the executive staff and to political supporters. The number sent has grown each year and this year's mailing is up by more than 50,000 from two years ago. Of course, in election years, you don't want to miss anyone.

Inside the card, a message engraved in gold says, "The President and Mrs. Reagan extend to you their warmest holiday greetings and best wishes for the new year." The presidential seal is embossed in white above the message and "1984" printed below.

Wyeth, 38, is the son of artist Andrew Wyeth. The older Wyeth was a favorite of Pat and Richard Nixon and a show of his work hung for a month in the White House during the Nixon administration.

"This, of course, does not please my Democratic friends," said the younger Wyeth of his painting. "They haven't heard yet, but last time they gave me a hard time."

Wyeth described himself as "more of a Democrat," and is a good friend of the Kennedy family, but he added, "I think Christmas is bipartisan."

The last time Wyeth did the White House card a small furor arose over what would happen to the painting. Friends of the Reagans wanted to buy it to present to the first family and arguments ensued over just who owned it. "This time I just said, 'Well, it's mine anyway, so I'll keep it,' " Wyeth said. The 9-by-12-inch oil will, however, be displayed in the White House during the holiday season.