Christina's World is a 1948 painting by American painter Andrew Wyeth, and one of the best-known American paintings of the middle 20th century. It depicts a woman lying on the ground in a treeless, mostly tawny field, looking up at a gray house on the horizon; a barn and various other small outbuildings are adjacent to the house.
This tempera work, done in a realist style called magic realism, is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as a part of its permanent collection.
The woman in the painting is Anna Christina Olson (3 May 1893 – 27 January 1968). She is likely to have suffered from Charcot–Marie–Tooth disease, a genetic polyneuropathy. Wyeth was inspired to create the painting when he saw her crawling across a field while he was watching from a window in the house. Wyeth had a summer home in the area and was on friendly terms with Olson, using her and her younger brother as the subjects of paintings from 1940 to 1968. Although Olson was the inspiration and subject of the painting, she was not the primary model—Wyeth's wife Betsy posed as the torso of the painting. Olson was 55 at the time Wyeth created the work.
The house depicted in the painting is known as the Olson House, and is located in Cushing, Maine. It is open to the public and is operated by the Farnsworth Art Museum. It is a National Historic Landmark, and has been restored to match its appearance in the painting. In the painting, Wyeth separated the house from its barn and changed the lay of the land.
Reception and history
Christina's World was first exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan in 1948. Although it received little attention from critics at the time, the painting was quickly bought by Alfred Barr, the founding director of MoMA, for $1,800. Barr promoted the painting at MoMA and it gradually grew in popularity over the years. Today, it is considered an icon of American art and is rarely loaned out by the museum.
- ^ abcdeChristina's World in the MoMA Online Collection
- ^Surugue, Léa (6 May 2016). "Christina's World: Mystery illness of Andrew Wyeth's most famous painting discovered". International Business Times. Retrieved 6 May 2016.
- ^The 23rd Historical Clinicopathological Conference, University of Maryland School of Medicine, May 6, 2016
- ^ abcCorliss, Richard (1986-08-18). "Andrew Wyeth's Stunning Secret". Time. Retrieved 2008-01-19.
- ^"The Olson House". Farnsworth Museum.
- ^Museum, Farnsworth (June 2, 2016). "Olson House and Farnsworth Homestead Open for Season". www.freepressonline.com. The Free Press. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
- ^Mena, Tim (January 12, 2016). "Christina's World: CUSHING, ME ~ Mid-18th Century". www.longleaflumber.com. Long Leaf Lumber. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
- ^Ernest, Dagney C. (May 20, 2016). "Olson House lecture details year-long effort". knox.villagesoup.com. Village Soup. Retrieved October 28, 2016.
- ^Kimmelman, Michael (January 16, 2009). "Andrew Wyeth, Painter, Dies at 91". The New York Times. Retrieved May 5, 2012.
- ^Esaak, Shelley. "Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth". About.com. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
“If there is such a thing as a purely American tradition in Art, it is represented at its best in the straightforward canvases of Andrew Wyeth.”
— LIFE magazine, May 17, 1948
By the time he turned 30, Andrew Wyeth had already cemented himself as one of the most important and quintessential American artists of his time. Born a full century ago in Chadds Ford, Penn., on July 12, 1917, Wyeth's only formal education in art came from his father, Newell Convers “N.C.” Wyeth, who was an accomplished illustrator in his own right. When LIFE profiled the younger Wyeth in 1948, he was well along in his career, having sold out his first solo exhibition at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City a decade prior. His most famous painting, Christina’s World, was painted the same year the 1948 article appeared in LIFE, but is not mentioned.
LIFE would feature Wyeth, who died in 2009, and his paintings many times over the years, including extensive articles in 1953 and a 1965 profile that featured 22 pages of his favorite paintings and a first-person interview by Richard Meryman, who became a good friend of Wyeth's and went on to write a biography of the painter.
Of his most famous painting, which now hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Wyeth said, “When I first painted it in 1948, Christina’s World hung all summer in my house in Maine and nobody particularly reacted to it. I thought, 'Boy, is this one ever a flat tire.'"
TIME Magazine, however, had a different take on the painting in a cover story on Wyeth in 1963, calling the work, “One of the most durable and disquieting images of 20th century America," and explaining the story behind the picture:
The most famous of these [subjects] is a woman named Christina Olson. He has painted eight temperas of her or her house, a decrepit three-story clapboard pile atop a knoll near the Maine seacoast. One of them, Christina's World, now 15 years old, is one of the most durable and disquieting images of 20th century America. Against the wall of landscape that leads up to her house, the crippled body of an ageless woman seems trapped, imprisoned by the very emptiness of the earth. Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art, which hesitated before buying it in 1948 for $2,200, has repaid its investment 22 times over in the sale of reproductions.
Christina, who is crippled by polio , is one of Wyeth's few close friends. He judges people by their reactions to her. "I don't take some people to see her," says Wyeth, "because they won't understand." He fears that they will find her grotesque. Christina's house contains the anonymous leavings of years of confinement. The smell of burning oil, charred wood, fat cats and old cloth fills the air. Christina, now nearing 70, does not let anyone see how she moves about, stubbornly refuses to use a wheelchair. "Andy's a very good friend," she says. "I like to pose for him. He talks a great deal when he paints, but he doesn't talk nonsense." She does not talk nonsense either. Despite her painful loneliness, she is dignified, proud and intelligent.
None of Wyeth's portraits of Christina look alike; the artist injects his own humanity into the people and places around him. More than anything else that Wyeth paints, Christina's individuality and inner strength are a mirror-portrait of the artist himself. She is a touchstone of his compassion.
When it came to a portrait of Wyeth himself, however, TIME turned for its cover image to a different artist: his sister, Henriette Wyeth Hurd. The magazine also noted that Her Room (seen in the fourth slide in this gallery) had fetched the highest price paid by any museum for a work by a living artist at the time. The painting sold for $65,000.
In Celebration of Wyeth’s centennial, The Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine — which purchased Wyeth works from that 1944 Macbeth gallery show four years before the museum even opened to the public — is hosting a series of five exhibitions including a major watercolor show, Andrew Wyeth at 100, which runs through this year. Seen above is a small sampling of this comprehensive look at Wyeth’s work spanning his entire career from 1938 through 2008.