Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth

Christina's World by Andrew Wyeth (1948)

The other day I came across what I thought was a simple landscape painting, which at first glance was a simple rural scene with a solitary figure, seemingly resting, in the foreground.  I had guessed it was an American landscape.  My mind went back to the photographs of the Mid-West plains.  I was half right in as much as it was an American landscape but not of the Mid West but of Maine. The female figure in the foreground was of a young woman, and my perception was that she was just raising herself from the ground after a pleasant lie in the meadow-like surroundings.  Maybe I should be forgiven for jumping to conclusions from just a fleeting glance but it was simply my first impression.  Look and see what you make of it after you have taken that first momentary look.

In fact this is not as simple a painting as one might have first believed.  Christina’s World was painted in 1948 by the American artist Andrew Wyeth and despite me having never seen it before, it is said to be one of the best known American paintings of the mid twentieth century and is presently hanging at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  The girl whom I took to be just simply raising herself from the ground after a period of relaxation is in fact a young woman afflicted with polio from early childhood which had paralysed her lower body and is actually crawling across a field to her home which can be seen in the distance.

The artist was inspired to create this painting when looking through a window of his summer house in Cushing Maine and he saw his young neighbour, Anna Christina Olson, who suffered from infantile paralysis, which resulted in her inability to walk, gazing up at her house from the large tree-less field in front of it.  The model he used for the picture of the girl was not Christina herself, who was in her mid-fifties at the time of the painting, but Andrew Wyeth’s young wife Betsy who was in her mid-twenties.  The painting of the young woman in a pink dress with wasted limbs has a haunting quality to it.   The landscape and the rural house are all painted in great detail.  Wyeth’s attention to detail is amazing.  Each blade of grass and each strand of the woman’s hair is painted individually. The style of the painting has been termed “magic realism”which is defined as an artistic genre in which meticulously realistic painting is combined with surreal elements of fantasy or dreams.  Wyeth commenting on his artistic style said:

“I search for the realness, the real feeling of a subject, all the texture around it…I always want to see the third dimension of something…I want to come alive with the object.”

Of the picture in general, Wyeth commented:

“The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.”

Have you a favourite painting which you would like to see on My Daily Art Display?  

If so, let me know and tell me why it is a favourite of yours and I will include it in a future offering.