Story of the painting “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth was born on January 12, 1917 and died on January 16, 2006 in Pennsylvania.  During a summer spent in Maine in 1948, he decided to paint “Christina’s World”. This painting is 82 cm by 1.21 meters, it has been exhibited at the Modern Art Museum since 1949 while the museum acquires it for a modest sum of $ 1,800.    This painting is the one that has had the most notoriety in the career of Andrew Wyeth. It is one of the most famous American works of the 20th century. Everyone at the time wanted a replica of “Christina’s World” on their wall.

While many see only a simple portrait in this painting tint by disdain, I see the persistence and the challenge of a lifetime. So I think the theme of this painting is the conquest of a life because of the challenge he fixed to himself and also because of certain principles and elements of arts used. In addition, an event in the life of Wyeth could prove my chosen theme. Andrew Wyeth has a permanent summer residence in Maine. During this period, he met his closest neighbors: Anna Christina Olson and Alvaro. He also meets his future wife, Betsy. Anna Christina Olson, suffering from a degenerative disease that affects her muscles and prevents her walking, was the inspiration for his painting: “Christina’s World”. While she developed this disease very early in her youth, she always refused to move in a wheelchair preferring to use her strength to crawl.

As Wyeth mentioned, the challenge for him in this painting “was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life”.  This woman was courageous and persevering. This canvas is not negative, it does not imbue disdain or pain, it is rather in honor of the strong woman that was Anna Christina Olson. From a side on the canvas, we see Christina crawling on the grass far from her house. She is wearing a pink dress, and she is completely stretched out to her house as if it were the center of her world. Her distorted arms and hands force us to believe that she is unable to get up and that she is calling for help. It is also important to note that Wyeth used his wife as a model for the torso and head of Christina since she was much younger at the time.

On the other side of

the canvas, we can see the representation of the Olson house today considered a historic place. Wyeth has however slightly rearranged the layout of this one, for example, he decided to remove the two tree columns which line the path which led to the entrance of the house. The house is located on a small hill, so the small hill could represent the daily challenges of the woman and then the impossible and hopeless aspect of her situation. In addition, the relationship between the house on the hill and Christina is impossible since if we consider the size of the traces left by tractor wheels, the figure of Christina should be much smaller. In addition to its size, the position taken by the figure in the work seems to make us believe that Wyeth did not use any notion of perspectives.

The proportion of Christina and the perspective of the work prove that Andrew Wyeth wanted to explore the style of Magic Realism. Wyeth contends that “In this style of painting, known as Magic Realism, everyday scenes are imbued with poetic mystery.” It is true that this painting is mysterious. Who is Christina? What’s going on in the canvas? Why is she positioned like this? Is this her house that you can see in the distance? This canvas raises a lot of questions. Beyond exploring Magic Realism in itself in this canvas, Andrew develops his own version of Magic Realism. His Magic Realism “is not fantastical or overtly surrealistic but more subtle and unsettling in its hyper-realism.”

Indeed the work is very realistic, we could at the limit confuse it with a photo, the details in the grass are impressive. You get lost in the work, in its depth, and in its precision. I know that in this extract he was talking about hyper-realism as far as for visual art, however, I think it could be applied to his choice of subject. He decided to paint Christina despite her illness, despite her difference. There is hyper-realism in the work since Wyeth did not try to hide it or even trivialized it, he represented her illness with realism. He has credit for representing the conquest of the life of Christina.

Then, the painting was created three years after the death of Andrew’s father. Newell Convers Wyeth also known as N.C Wyeth died hit by a passing train in Kuerner’s Hill in 1945 in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, at the age of 62. He was a well-known illustrator in America. Passion for art connected Andrew Wyeth and his father. When he died, Andrew’s works began to change. His palette became darker and his figures more plaintive. He also began to over-represent in his canvases, a hill, probably in honor of his father who died on a hill, Kuerner’s Hill. Unable to paint a portrait of his father, it’s like “the hill finally became a portrait of him.”

Christina’s world fits all these criteria, so this painting could be the expression of his inner grief. Indeed, feelings like helplessness or distress in this psychological case could very well have affected the heart of Andrew Wyeth at the death of his father. In addition, in the same way that Christina’s world questions the viewers, Wyeth’s father’s death was followed by questions. Why him? Why did he die this way? Why couldn’t he avoid the train? Answering these questions and ultimately accepting death is the challenge of a life, in the same way that paralysis of her lower limbs was the conquest of a life for Mrs. Olson.