Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Christina's World


I am not really a fan of modern art, but every time Chris and I have visited New York, we try and make time to visit The Museum Of Modern Art on W53rd Street.
Years ago, one painting caught my attention and my imagination. It was Christina's World by Andrew Wyelth  Now, I had no idea just how famous the painting was in America, I was simply drawn to the picture's strange story of a frail, faceless woman in a field.
The inspiration for the painting was a lady called Christina Olsen, a probable polio sufferer, who Wyelth had once seen crawling across the Olsen family farmland. The model for the painting was in fact Wyelth's wife Betsy, who introduced him to Christina in 1939 and the two families became close friends for many, many years
Interestingly Christina, her brother Alvaro and Wyelth are all buried in the same cemetery , near to the Olsen farm in Maine
When I first saw the painting, I fell into conversation with an elderly New Yorker who asked me how the painting made me feel. I told him that I thought it was in many ways a powerful piece and that it reminded me of patients I had nursed with  paralysis.
This was before I knew any history of the painting, and my companion not only explained to me all about Christina Olsen but also took some time explaining that Andrew Wyelth was grieving for his father and nephew, who died in a train accident, when he painted the work.
"That's why the colours are all muted and the subject is so melancholic" I remember him explaining
I have loved this painting ever since.
To me it isn't a sad piece of work, but a hopeful one
It portrays someone who lives in a small, safe life......
A woman who looks into her world rather than gazing wistfully away from it


(We have a postcard of the painting on our fridge in the kitchen....I caught myself looking at it over morning coffee...hence the post! x)

41 comments:

  1. Wyeth painted some of the US's most iconic pictures. Christina's world is certainly one. I always find it rather depressing, but in a slightly encouraging way.

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  2. I had never realised the meaning of the subject matter until this post, John, although the image is engrained on my memory.

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  3. Beautiful John...just beautiful. x

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  4. Beautiful painting John, very atmospheric.
    Jo xx

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  5. cro
    I guess I never see paralysis as an exclusively negative thing..

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  6. I recognized the painting but had no idea of the back story. Thanks for sharing it here John.

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  7. 'A small safe life' whst more could we ask...
    A beautiful painting, I too am wiser for your words.
    ~Jo

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  8. I've always loved this piece. And more so after I head the story behind it years ago.
    m.

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  9. it's a very eerie picture.... is that the right spelling.... I hope i've not just described it as an eagle's lair??.... most odd and haunting to me. Yorkshire Sculpture Park for me tomorrow so planty of modern art there.... woohoo!

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  10. Great post and a wonderful story. I was actually not aware of it, so thanks for sharing it with us, John.

    Hope you're all having a wonderful day!

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  11. My friend Ronna loves Wyeth, and last year she visited the house. YOu might like the blog post she did on it:
    http://ronnas.blogspot.ca/2011/09/farnsworth-olson-house.html

    It also inspired her to do some drawings of her own, which will be in our Art Fayre show this year:

    http://www.artfayre.blogspot.ca/2012/04/portrait-of-artist-ronna-mogelon.html

    THought you might enjoy them!

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  12. What a very interesting comment of yours not ever seeing paralysis "as an exclusively negative thing". I am afraid I do [see it as entirely negative]. If I were paralyzed I might, obviously can't be sure, prefer to be dead. If my son had an accident I, no doubt, would prefer him to be paralyzed and alive rather than dead. For selfish reasons.

    Whatever: I dare say I'd never be able to see any beauty in it. Painted or not.

    U

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  13. Although Andrew Wyeth is known world-wide, people in my area of Chester County, Pennsylvania, consider him one of our own. Although he summered in Maine, he lived his life here in ChaddsFord, PA. Most people in this area have at least one print of his, or his father's, N.C. Wyeth, or his son's, Jamie Wyeth, hanging on a wall of their house. I have a lithograph called "After Picking", which I love.

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  14. Ursula
    I worked for too long in spinal injury nursing to see paralysis in something that destroys life. Oh course it does and can do, but I have experience of how people cope with it and carve out lives for themselves ,
    The ability to 'live' rather to merely 'exist' never ceases to amaze me

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  15. Thank you nat
    Will check them out x

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  16. If you ever happen to go to Greenville-Spartenburg in NCarolina (or is it Spartenburg-Greenville - never could keep that straight?), there is a public museum with the most comprehensive, and fabulous permanent Wyeth (father and son) exhibit.

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  17. Oops, sorry that's South Carolina not North...geography never was my forte!

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  18. fascinating and most enjoyable to learn about.

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  19. MOMA...we visited many years ago as well and for me I reveled in the art displayed...I've always enjoyed art ever since my youth taking art classes at the university...this painting has a great story..so this should tell all that the painting you are gazing at just may have a story you would never have thought of....thanks for this John!

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  20. It sure does make you think, and wonder what she's thinking. It gets ya.

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  21. I've always loved this painting too...so full of emotion!

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  22. My mother in law had polio as a child and endured over 30 operations before the age of 16 at the Shriner's Hospital in Chicago IL. She was only allowed to see her family a few hours each Sunday and she lost a large number of her friends in the hospital that didn't survive the disease. She is one of the strongest women I've ever met and she's barely 4'9"~90 lb. women and she raised 4 boys, worked full time for the Department of Mental Health and just retired from that last year. I am in awe of the accomplishments of this woman, she's never felt sorry for herself.
    This painting says to me, "I may be a small woman in a big world, but I am not afraid of what's out there".
    Thanks for the background story on this painting, I will forever think of my dear MIL when I see it. :)

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  23. What an intruiging painting

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  24. I love that you see this painting as "hopeful". My immediate tendency (being the morbidly depressed person that I am!) is to see it as sad ~ tragic even. To me she looks outcast. Alone.

    I much prefer your interpretation!

    Wonderful post...

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  25. Thanks for the background on this painting, John. I never knew what Wyeth's inspiration was.
    This is what I like about paintings....they are pretty much 'open' to interpretation by the viewer.
    I thought this woman was in distress about her decision about 'leaving her home' and she feel upon the ground in her misery and decision. There you go.

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  26. I don't believe I have every seen this painting though I feel as if I have been there both in spirit and space and I think it is a hopeful painting.

    You do have great taste in art!

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  27. The first thing that struck me was how wasted her arms look.

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  28. Thank you, John. I've always been struck by this painting, but had never looked up the back story.

    Nancy in Iowa

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  29. I also love Andrew Wyeth. I think he did hundreds of drawings and paintings at the Olson Farm. (I remember seeing a special Wyeth exhibit in NY in the '80s.) The woman portrayed in Christina's world is actually a combination of Christina and Wyeth's wife Betty. Christina was already in her mid-50s at the time of the painting and his wife Betty was in her mid-20s. So he used Christina's limbs and Betsy's head and torso. It is really powerful.

    Also, his father, NC Wyeth was very well known; you might know his work from the cover of the original "Treasure Island" (which, yes I know was written some years before you were born).

    Thanks for the post!

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  30. Obviously that was supposed to be Betsy (and not Betty) throughout!

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  31. I've also seen that painting at MoMA and was very struck by it. What's interesting is that you can't see her face so you don't know what expression is on it. You can only make a subjective guess at what she might be feeling. To me, her posture suggests she's longing for something. Or maybe as you say looking wistfully at something. And I like the feeling of timeless permanence in the landscape.

    Thanks for the explanation about Christina and Betsy and the train accident. I didn't know all that.

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  32. Thank you for the back story on this beautiful work of art. Both my mom and my former neighbor, Joan, have this picture. I have "lived" with Christina most of my life and never knew her name or that she was actually a real person until now.

    Isn't it delightful how random conversations with strangers open up windows. Many hugs to you xo

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  33. When I lived in New York, MOMA was among many of the favorite places I enjoyed doing and seeing. I enjoy Wyeth works immensely, yet I never knew the story behind this particular work. Thanks for the enlightenment, and for the inspirational words and insight about the spirit of optimism.

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  34. I'm also familiar with the work, but not the back story. I have worked for years in geriatric hospitals. In one place I got to know Ivy - a youngish (45ish) woman with cerebral palsy, who had the guts of a lion. She has been an inspiration to me.
    Perhaps if we could see 'Christina's' face it would be clenched tight in the determination of striving, like Ivy's when she would take an hour each morning to make her own bed.

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  35. It is a beautiful painting, and like most, I didn't know the story behind it. Makes the picture seem more hopeful knowing the background.

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  36. I shall have to think about this John - not sure I agree with you about the last bit. But you have much more experience of working with people with major disabilities - so maybe you are right. Still, I shall give it some thought.

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  37. pat
    of course I am talking in generalities here.....but in for the most part people make a go, out of things post injury.
    if I didnt believe that I couldnt have worked in the field for neigh on 20 years

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  38. I am so impressed by what you could tell from the painting before you knew anything about its story. Andrew Wyeth is one of my favourite American artists -- There is one of his of an eagle in flight that is astonishing...

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  39. The painting is very powerful.......

    Each persons view on the subject will probably differ in some way.
    I see the woman longing to get to the house, her home. Perhaps that is because I am a homebird and for me the love of my garden and home is very deep.....and I feel everyone is the same :)

    Tku for sharing this....I have been to New York but have never visited the gallery....perhaps I should next time :)

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  40. The painting is very powerful.......

    Each persons view on the subject will probably differ in some way.
    I see the woman longing to get to the house, her home. Perhaps that is because I am a homebird and for me the love of my garden and home is very deep.....and I feel everyone is the same :)

    Tku for sharing this....I have been to New York but have never visited the gallery....perhaps I should next time :)

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  41. Small world! For many years, i must have been Starting Over Accepting Changes-Maybe's neighbour as i lived about 20 minutes from Chadds Ford.

    Many moons ago now, i worked in a posh restaurant that was attached to a posh hotel. The hotel had two dining rooms, and the more intimate one had NC Wyeth's "Island Funeral" over the mantel. I never tired of looking at that.

    megan

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