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The Barker Code
of Color/Fabric Representation

Museum Masterpieces

Christina's World

Homage to “Christina's World”, by Andrew Wyeth (2007) mixed media, 21 ½ x 30.

“Christina's World” (32 ¼ x 40 ¾) was done in tempera on a gessoed panel, in 1948. The original is on display at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York.

Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) was an American and the son of the famous illustrator, N. C. Wyeth.

Briefly described: This is a painting of Christina Olson, one of Wyeth's neighbors who had no use of her legs. She is shown painfully pulling herself up through a dry, brown, weedy field, toward the top of a seemingly endless sloping hillside. There are buildings at the top of the hill. Christina's body is turned away from us, so what we see is the twist of her torso in her pink dress, her left fist clenched in the brittle weeds, the tension of her right arm as she supports her body, and the breeze pulling at her thick, black hair that has been tucked into a bun at the nape of her neck.

More about the painting: Christina Olson was a good friend of Andrew Wyeth's wife, Betsy. He was painting a picture at her house when he looked out the window and saw Christina crawling across the fields. He was struck by the shade of pink in her dress, “ looked like one of those lobster shells dried out on a New England beach”. That night he made a sketch of her. He felt the loneliness of her figure, and likened it to the way he felt as a child. “The painting is as much an experience of mine as it was hers,” he said. Wyeth spent a month or two painting each blade of grass before painting Christina. And at first was afraid that the picture was a “flat tire”, but it has become one of the most recognizable paintings by an American artist of the twentieth century.

More about Andrew Wyeth: Andrew Wyeth lived in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. He had health problems as a child and was tutored at home. At the age of 15, Wyeth started formal training to become an artist and by age 20 held his first successful show. In spite of this success, Andrew gave up watercolors and turned to egg tempera as a medium. It required a slower pace because the paint takes six months to dry. Working in secret, he would very rarely let someone look at the picture until it was done. He never posed a scene or used a photograph but sketched until something “clicked” in his mind. Although often thought of as a realist, his paintings of objects are not straightforward illustrations from life. Rather, they are filled with hidden metaphors that explore common themes of memory, nostalgia and loss. He said, “The thing that pleases me most is that my work touches people's feelings. In fact, people don't talk about the paintings. They end up telling me the story of their life.”

SallyB's comments: The first time I saw this picture, I really did not like it. But because it is so well know, I felt that it should be made accessible. I have come to appreciate how well it communicates the feeling of being alone in a difficult place. The weedy field was difficult, and I ended up pulling a cord through a piece of plastic webbing and putting that between the top and the batting of the picture.