Set in the stark landscape of coastal Maine, Christina’s World depicts a young woman seen from behind, wearing a pink dress and lying in a grassy field. Although she appears to be in a position of repose, her torso, propped on her arms, is strangely alert; her silhouette is tense, almost frozen, giving the impression that she is fixed to the ground. She stares at a distant farmhouse and a group of outbuildings, ancient and grayed in harmony with the dry grass and overcast sky.
Wyeth’s neighbor Anna Christina Olson inspired the composition, which is one of four paintings by Wyeth in which she appears. As a young girl, Olson developed a degenerative muscle condition—possibly polio—that left her unable to walk. She refused to use a wheelchair, preferring to crawl, as depicted here, using her arms to drag her lower body along. “The challenge to me,” Wyeth explained, “was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.”
The high level of detail Wyeth gave to every object in his paintings encourages intense inspection, but his titles reveal the inner significance of their outwardly straightforward subjects. The title Christina’s World, courtesy of Wyeth’s wife, indicates that the painting is more a psychological landscape than a portrait, a portrayal of a state of mind rather than a place.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
The woman crawling through the tawny grass was the artist’s neighbor in Maine, who, crippled by polio, “was limited physically but by no means spiritually.” Wyeth further explained, “The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.” He recorded the arid landscape, rural house, and shacks with great detail, painting minute blades of grass, individual strands of hair, and nuances of light and shadow.
Gallery label from 2007.