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  • Russ Ramsey

Christina's World, by Andrew Wyeth

For this Art Wednesday we’ll take an in-depth look at Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World. This was one of the earliest paintings I remember feeling drawn to. I think I saw a picture of this painting when I was in high school. The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City where this painting lives, wrote of the artist, “Wyeth’s keenly observed images have a pared down sparseness that gives them a palpable sense of quiet.”


Wyeth, Christina’s World, 1948


Who is Christina, and why do we find her in a field? A number of years ago I had spent a little time with this painting at the MoMA. The sign beside the painting said, “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, Christina’s World (Hand detail), 1948


“Wyeth further explained, ‘The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.’” (MoMA)


Wyeth, Christina’s World (foot detail), 1948


“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.” (MoMA)


Wyeth, Christina’s World (Hair detail), 1948


“In this style of painting, known as magic realism, everyday scenes are imbued with poetic mystery.” (MoMA)


Wyeth, Christina’s World (Hand detail 2), 1948


Andrew Wyeth painted Christina Olsen several times over the years. They were neighbors and friends. He painted this one below the year before he did Christina’s World. It captures well the effects of her polio.


Wyeth, Christina Olsen, 1947


Christina (here) and her husband Alvaro let Wyeth use a room on the second floor of their Maine farmhouse as a studio. One day, from that window, he saw Christina crawling across the field, inspiring his famous work.


Wyeth, Miss Olsen, 1952


Christina’s World captures a kind of desperation, but also a resolve to overcome. It’s been imitated many times in pop culture, as in this scene from Forrest Gump. Sometimes there just aren’t enough rocks.


Forrest Gump, Christina’s World, Screen Capture


To wrap up this Art Wednesday, I leave you this photograph of Andrew Wyeth with Alvaro and Christina Olsen at the Olsen’s home in Maine. It’s a reminder to live relationally as we seek to live artfully.


Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olsen



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