Rediscovering Christina’s World

Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth
I do very well in quizzes and in games like “Who wants to be a millionaire?” and Trivial Pursuit. That’s because I have a lot of general, trivial and useless information in my head. I am trying to say that I have quite a good general knowledge. However, there are two categories where I am weak in and are my archilles’ heel in such general knowledge quizzes. These two areas are “current politics” and “art”.I generally have a loathing of politicians so someone has to be extraordinarily good or unfortunately, extraordinarily bad for me to register him/her in my mind. Hence, I don’t know the names of most current politicians.

With art, I do know a bit but that’s been what I’ve picked up for myself over the years on rare exposure to treasure houses of arts like the British Museum or the Kuntahistorische in Vienna. In the famous words of a celebrity from American Idol; “I’ve had no formal training.” Nevertheless, I know some of the famous names and understand the difference between impressionism and surrealism. (Although I still don’t understand the difference between some Modern Art and an accident).

So, I think we have established that when it comes to art, I don’t know much. However, I know what I like. I like Monet, Renoir, Klimt, and Dali. I also know that I don’t share the fascination most of the world has over Mona Lisa’s smile.

There was one painting that I remembered seeing and I can’t remember where or when but whenever my mind turns to art, I see it in my mind’s eye. Somehow this picture made an impression on my soul. The frustrating thing was I knew nothing about this picture. So yesterday, I went and got the help of an expert, Josie. I told her about the key elements of the painting and presto, hole in one, she got the right one on the first try.

So, I finally know that this painting that haunts me is called “Christina’s World” and is by Andrew Wyeth. It seems Mr. Wyeth is a famous painter and this painting is considered one of the icons of modern American painting. I did not know all this before. I did a lot of researching and I found out all the following wonderful facts (although I suspect it may be old news for many readers).

This was Mr. Wyeth’s first commercially successful painting and sold for just USD 1,800. It was painted in 1948. The girl in the painting was a neighbour and a friend of his wife. Her name is Christina Olson (born May 3, 1893 and died January 27, 1968). I have often wondered about the unique composition of the painting with the twisted torso of the woman and the deliberate emphasis of distance to the houses. I have also wondered at the frail limbs and since the face is not seen in the painting, whether it was a girl or a woman and whether she was smiling, crying or distressed. I guess I like this picture cause it made me wonder what the story was all about.

It seems that Christina was suffering from some progressive muscular degenerative disease. A precise diagnosis was never made and it could have been a number of inheritable degenerative diseases or polio which was very common then. At the time of the painting, Christina was in her 50’s. She had almost no strength in her legs but refused to use a wheelchair and prefered to crawl all over the house and farm. She was by all accounts a very capable woman who did her utmost to not allow her disability hinder her from a full and as normal a life as possible.

When Andrew Wyeth painted this painting, Christina was actually making her way down the hill to visit her parent’s grave. The farm, barn and house is still there today and can be seen if you visit Cushing, Maine.

The other interesting thing is that this painting was done using the Tempera method in which pigments were mixed with egg contents to create a better binding agent.

Well, I don’t know how many years the un-named painting haunted me and had me wondering. I am so glad to be finally formally introduced to it and the story of the painting and its subject does not disappoint.



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