Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth 1948 - Museum of Modern Art, New York.
I love this painting and always found it haunted me in a beautiful way. When I first saw it, I thought the painting was simply a romantic portrayal of a young girl/woman in a field in the summer. When I found out during an art history class who the girl is in the painting, and what she suffered from - it became a desperate painting about struggle, loss, pain.
The subject in the painting is Christina Olson, a neighbour of Andrew Wyeth. She was crippled, completely unable to walk (possibly from polio - though she was undiagnosed). Wyeth painted this painting after seeing her agonizingly crawling across her field. His wife Betsy modeled for the painting to portray Christina, and he modified Betsy's body to the more contorted, skeletal form of Christina. Thinking of what an incredible struggle that must have been for Christina Olson on a daily basis, poor, unable to walk, living on a remote farm, changed my original reaction to this painting dramatically.
When you know the back story and look closely at the painting, you can see her emaciated arms and twisted figure. Seeing the distance Wyeth has placed her on the canvas, from her home, on an inclined hill, is obviously meant to emphasize her situation. The barren landscape, the empty grey sky, the bleak houses - now I look at it and I can not believe that I had not recognized all the clues Wyeth has given us about the real meaning of this piece - and that I did not notice her arms and hands. But my understanding is that many people are also shocked to learn about the backstory of this painting, and also had not seen her the way she is actually painted.
Andrew Wyeth, (born July 12, 1917 and died January 16, 2009) is one of my favourite artists. His colour palettes, attention to detail and compositions are wonderful. He painted the people around him and the landscapes and buildings close to him. Anna and Karl Kuerner, (his neighbors in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania) and their farm were one of Wyeth's most important subjects for nearly 50 years, as was Christina Olson and the Olson farm. Now that I know more of is work, I see that poverty, discomfort, pain and emptiness are constant themes. Below are a few more of Andrew Wyeth's evocative paintings.