Christina’s World was painted by Andrew Wyeth in 1948. She hangs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The museum lists their gallery label description from 2007 online:
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. In this style of painting, known as magic realism, everyday scenes are imbued with poetic mystery.
This painting is quite beautiful, and among the most recognizable of Wyeth’s work. In May 2016, the U.K.’s Daily Mail wrote an article about the painting and painting subject:
Mystery of disease behind one of the world’s most famous paintings is solved: Crawling woman in ‘Christina’s World’ has rare nerve condition, expert claims
By Madlen Davies for MailOnline
PUBLISHED: 09:00 EDT, 6 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:22 EDT, 6 May 2016
On a bright day, in a field of long, yellow grass, a young woman is lying on the ground.
Staring longingly at a farmhouse in the distance, her legs are bent at an odd angle underneath her and she appears disabled.
This is Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting Christina’s World – one of the most famous American works of the 20th century – which has captivated critics for decades.
After years of discussion about which affliction the woman is suffering, neurologists believe they have finally diagnosed her mysterious illness.
Now, Professor Marc Patterson, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, believes he has pinpointed the diseases that afflicted her.
He said Christina is likely to have suffered from an early-onset form of Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a group of inherited disorders that affect the peripheral nerves and can lead to significant problems with movement.
Ok I guess to medical detectives, this is a mystery worth solving. The information is interesting, but it doesn’t affect how I feel about the painting one way of the other.
A few weeks ago now, another article appeared in a publication called Artsy.
This latest article is an editorial, so it’s steeped in personal opinions of the author whose name is, Zachary Small.
When I first read it, I wasn’t sure how to take it, because my opinion was somewhat visceral. I was offended for the artist and offended as someone who appreciates the work of Wyeth.
Because a first read, and then a second read left me with the opinion of someone who is an art writer/critic trying to make his bones over one of our most beloved Pennsylvania artists. Is it because Wyeth is a Pennsylvania artist and therefore not worthy of the many decades of accolades?
Or is the author merely an angry man with an ax to grind at Andrew Wyeth‘s expense?
Who is he to impugn Wyeth’s character and ethics? I am sorry, I just struggle how he can speak so truly ill of the dead?
In his article, Mr. Small didn’t even feature the actual painting of the artist, he used a photo by a photographer named Alex Thompson who paid homage to the famous painting in 2005.
The Controversial Story behind Andrew Wyeth’s Most Famous Painting
BY ZACHARY SMALL
AUG 31ST, 2017 5:08 PM
Andrew Wyeth’s painting Christina’s World (1948) is a modern masterpiece. Or is it totally trite?
…..Why is it that Christina’s World evokes such strong feelings of nostalgia and disdain? Admittedly, the painting is somewhat kitschy. It presumes the viewer has a connection with the American pastoral…Unfortunately, a closer look at the historical and ethical contexts of Christina’s World betrays the painting’s initial delights. Wyeth was an idiosyncratic artist whose seven decades of work focus mainly on two families in two locations: the Kuerners in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and the Olsons in South Cushing, Maine.
He used his wife as a model for the figure’s head and torso.
The subtext of this switcheroo is malignant. Did Wyeth replace parts of Olson with Betsy for beauty’s sake? And can we assume the artist never asked Olson for consent to paint her disability? Is that okay?
Today, I would argue that Wyeth skirted his self-professed goal for Christina’s World by compromising the striking realism of his painting in favor of a younger model…..but it’s difficult to understand an artist whose grasp on a rapidly changing world was so willfully small, and whose ethics so hazy.
Again, I just do not understand the purpose of this editorial. It’s the author’s opinion, of course, but why? Why does he feel the need to write this?
Zachary Small from his LinkedIn page appears to be fairly young…with a lot of life to live yet. I went searching for information on him to see if he was himself a handicapped person — to me that would make me be able to better understand his tone in his editorial.
Sadly, I quite simply do not. Maybe us simple country folk here in Pennsylvania are beyond comprehension for an urban city dweller such as Mr. Small.
But I think it would behoove him to come check out where Wyeth called home more comprehensively…and take his time going through the Brandywine River Museum of Art.
I would wonder what he would have to say about one of my favorite Andrew Wyeth paintings, Indian Summer? Would he say that the subject was fat? Or had an imperfect human form? That the painting was pornographic? To me, it is the very simplicity in the beauty of that painting that makes it so magical.
I am but a blogger, mere mortal, and middle aged female. I am sure Mr. Small would not appreciate my opinion…however, turnabout is fair play and I don’t appreciate his piece on Andrew Wyeth.
I will close with some comments from my readers in the blog’s Facebook page that they wrote when I posted a link to this article:
I think it’s way over the top to fault Wyeth for becoming a a wealthy artist. Isn’t success a worthy goal in any profession? Then to continue the criticism by saying he profited from the struggles of a disabled person is beyond ridiculous. He apparently offered some kind of compensation but was rebuffed. Can you say that da Vinci profited from the mysterious smile of Mona Lisa?
I presume Christina was okay with Andy making her longing and other emotions the subject of the painting instead of her physical deformities (although you can still tell they’re there). A painting is an artist’s interpretation, it’s not a photograph. This article is trying to stir up controversy where none exists.
It sounds like the author has an agenda he is pushing. Would Christina actually want to be a model for hours? I doubt it. Those who I know who suffer from CMT don’t have a deformity per se, it’s more that through the disease that there is foot drop and other problems that develop because of inability of the muscles and nerves to work together. If Christina or her family had a problem with Wyeth “painting her disability” they never said anything. Far from it they seemed to enjoy the painting.
Glad I like art for art’s sake and that I do not try to determine what is going on in the artist or model’s head. And I especially do not try to analyze what disease a model may have. I did not even realize that this was the case with this art work. I just thought it was of a woman on a hill looking up at a house.
Hi Carla, I read the article and I agree with you, also, I found other pictures of Christina he had done, and from the back, she probably would have looked like the woman in the picture. Yes, it might have portrayed a younger version of herself, but since when is an artist required to draw people exactly as they are at any particular point in time.