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MoMA

A CLOSER LOOK AT CHRISTINA’S WORLD

November 21, 2012  |  Artists, Collection & Exhibitions, Publications
A Closer Look at Christina’s World
Andrew Wyeth, <i>Christina's World</i> (1948). The Museum of Modern Art, New York.  Purchase. © 2012 Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth. Christina’s World. 1948. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Purchase. © 2012 Andrew Wyeth

In 1949 The Museum of Modern Art acquired a modest-sized landscape painting from the Macbeth Gallery on 57th Street in New York City for $1,800—then considered a hefty sum for an artwork. The painting would go on to become one of the most recognized images in American art, simultaneously well-loved and scorned, and is now the subject of Wyeth: Christina’s World, the latest book in the MoMA One on One series which provides an in-depth look at some of the most significant artworks in the Museum’s collection.

cover of <i>Wyeth: Christina's World</i>

Cover of Wyeth: Christina’s World

Christina’s World (1948) is a familiar image in popular culture but upon closer examination, the scene can be quite mysterious. Who is the young woman in the field, and what is she thinking as she stares off into the distance? Curator Laura Hoptman’s richly illustrated essay revisits the genesis of the painting to place it within the context of Wyeth’s life and career. Curiously, the artist depicted only two locations in his paintings over the course of his 70-year career: Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where he was born, and South Cushing, Maine, where his wife Betsy’s family owned a home. And within these two locations, he focused mainly on two families, the Kuerners in Chadds Ford and the Olsons in South Cushing. Anna Christina Olson of South Cushing, who had a degenerative muscle condition that cost her the use of her legs by her early 30s, was the inspiration for Wyeth’s most famous painting.

Andrew Wyeth, Christina Olson (1947). Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis. © 2012 Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth. Christina Olson. 1947. Curtis Galleries, Minneapolis. © 2012 Andrew Wyeth

Around the time he produced Christina’s World, Wyeth was highly praised by artists such as Elaine de Kooning for the exacting realism of his paintings, but as the art world moved on to Abstract Expressionism and eventually to Pop art, he never changed the style of his art, drawing negative backlash for being too conservative and provincial. The book examines the heated debates about kitsch and art-world elitism that continue to surround Wyeth’s work today, long after the artist’s death in 2009.

For more of Hoptman’s essay, download a preview of Wyeth: Christina’s World from our website.

Comments

I saw this great painting on a novel’s cover and made a mental note to read it someday. That has haunted me for decades, there is something special about this painting!

It has haunted me since childhood, also.
Having been born in 1948, having had polio,
as well as the name Christine, I’ve had a special
relationship with this work. I’ve also had an extraordinary
love of Maine, and barns, which was my partner’s state and place of birth and last name!. (Barnes)

When I was 12 I saw a print of this in a catalog, I envied the “girl” having a day out.As a young wife. I saw a woman taking a rest from housework . When I turned 50 and read about Miss Olsen . I felt the painting aged with me.

I saw Christina’s World, I was intrigued by the intricacy of lines of paint for grass and the lace of her shoe. A lace made of paint and looped to tie it.

This painting is one that”stays with you.” Every time I take time to “be” with it, I see something I had not seen before. The diagonal from the lower left of the painting–lined up by Christina–moves to the upper right farmhouse. There is a vertical from the barn with Christina’s head and right shoulder lining up the vertical line. Christina is where both lines intersect. Powerfull,plaintive, mysterious.

Christina. I cannot remember a time that I had not known her. And because I had once been told (erroneously apparently) that she had MS, she became my kindred spirit. I have MS and for me, I see myself in this painting, standing beside the bike that I used to be able to ride – a cane in my hand and the bike encumbered with a rusty lock. Christina lives in all of our broken dreams and promises.

The farmhouse still stands and is open to the public. While nearly all the furniture has been removed, certain pieces remain, like the rocker in the kitchen. Visiting the farmhouse is a very special experience and one I’ll never forget. I’m a photographer and have a photograph alternately titled: Homage to Andrew Wyeth which visually references Christina’s World. You’re welcome to view it at http://tinyurl.com/Cabin-on-Point.

I remember seeing it in NY as a kid and being impressed but not knowing why. Now, having lived half my life with a disability I can feel what he may be portraying. Her limitations simplified her life, portrayed by the uncluttered landscape. Compared to others, her experiences seem bleak but the world she can experience, like the horizon and the sky here, still feels grand. The tension between the detail in the few objects and the softness of the field and sky draws the viewer into feeling the immediacy of her world, and ours.

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