Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World has a strong emotional appeal. This piece of art offers a unique insight into another world, created by Wyeth. This painting put me in a state of perplexity and solitude while inviting to muse on its ambiguous and puzzling content.
Christina’s World belongs to a genre of realism, as it portrays the countryside landscape in a realistic way, with attention to detail. While the surroundings look in a familiar way, the woman lying in the grass is in a pose which suggests that she is crawling. Her position makes us wonder whether there is a symbolic dimension to the painting. Therefore, Christina’s World could be categorized as a painting in the genre of realism with certain elements of symbolism. According to Fischer (1994), Wyeth is often considered to be a representational artist (p. 326). Due to the clarity of details, his paintings have a photographic quality. However, they do not simply resemble reality but also “orchestrate” it in a way (Fischer, 1994, p. 326), providing the viewer with an opportunity to see the artist’s outlook on the ideas and images conveyed by the artwork.
This artwork was inspired by a neighbor of Wyeth’s, Christina Olson, who suffered from a nerve degenerating disease, which prevented her from walking. Because of the condition, Christina could not walk, so she used to crawl through the field. Wyeth, observing her courageous efforts many times, was deeply moved. Christina’s life had a profound effect on the artist (Esaak, n.d., para. 1). The director of the Museum of Modern Art enjoyed this artwork so much that he purchased it for 1800 dollars at the time when it was rather underestimated by the critics, not to say undermined it (Puchko, n.d., para. 8). Today it is one of the most frequently visited exhibits in the museum. The Olson house depicted in Christina’s World has been on the Register of Historic Places since 1995.
Created in 1948, the meaning of this piece of art extends beyond a sad story of a person with a muscle degeneration condition. The initial interpretation of the painting pertains to the idea of significant limits imposed on a human being due to a health condition as destructive as the one Christina had (Potter, 2006). This idea is also conveyed by the contrast between an open-spaced landscape and the helpless pose of the girl. The openness of the landscape with the house on the horizon is a symbol of all the possibilities Christina lost due to her illness. The condition she suffered from was undiagnosed at the time (Potter, 2006, p. 878). As we cannot see Christina’s face, it might symbolize all the people suffering from similar conditions. The hidden face of a particular person might be a generalization of all people with disabilities, who are denied certain possibilities in life due to their illness. Wyeth once admitted that if he had decided to paint this work again, he would have done it without depicting any human form (Fischer, 1994, p. 329). This means that while Christina Olson’s story was an original inspiration for the painter, the overall idea of the artwork was extended beyond this particular story to present an image of all those in pain.
From another point of view, the artwork could be meant to convey the feeling of being lost after the atrocities of the World War II. As it was painted three years after the end of the war, the overall atmosphere of isolation of the painting vividly expresses the idea of the years lost in the struggle, and the loved ones lost in battles. The feeling of emptiness, typical of post-war societies, could be one of the messages Wyeth meant to communicate.
Technique and Materials
Egg tempera is the technique Wyeth used to paint Christina’s World (Puchko, n.d., para. 6). He is known to have admitted that the major reason why he wanted to master the tempera is the discipline required for this technique (Fischer, 1994, p. 335). It is explained by the fact that this technique demands a careful and thorough control of the process of paint mixing. Many sketches of Christina’s arms and legs were made before the actual painting (Duggan, n.d., para. 6). The painter used egg yolk as a binding method for the pigment instead of oil (“Andrew Wyeth: Christina’s World”, n.d., para. 5). Admittedly, it is a technique that is rather time-consuming and generally demanding, but it allowed Wyeth to convey the melancholy that can have manifold interpretation.
Time and Circumstances of Creation
Christina’s World is an artwork that embodies the ideas of isolation, a feeling of being lost due to various reasons, confronting the reality, and the idea of that reality as unfortunate and unsatisfactory, which one must face. The interpretation of the painting pertaining to the post-war years is an important aspect of unlocking the symbols of the artwork. The feeling of emptiness and perplexity, felt by those who lost someone in the war, is expressed in the open landscape with a house on the horizon. The idea of distance between the people dear to each other is what makes the painting so melancholy. Christina’s pose reflecting the hopelessness of her misunderstood and undiagnosed condition, as well as her face that the viewer cannot see, show us the world from her perspective, or even from the perspective of all people hurting because of their lost loved one, or because of the possibilities they will never have.
The idea of distance and isolation from the society are conveyed by adding an element of harsh truth: the more isolated one is due to a variety of reasons, the more hurtful one finds the reality one has to confront. Christina’s figure is a reminder of an overall human condition that is abundant in disappointments and harsh truth, isolation, and a feeling of being lost in the field of one’s reality, while seeing the inaccessible version of this reality in front of you. The limits imposed on a person by the drastic health condition or by a war tragedy are as vivid as are the details in the discussed artwork.
Thus, the social value expressed by the painting is evident. Primarily, Wyeth emphasizes the place the disabled occupy in society. More often than not, the overwhelming feeling of isolation is a companion of people with limited opportunities. Experiencing pain from being unable to explore one’s full potential, to do everything a human being can usually do leads to frustration and depression. The importance of adjusting the rules of society to those with limited possibilities due to a health condition is essential for a compassionate and humane community.
The Significance of Studying Christina’s World
Aside from the fact that this piece of art is valuable from the artistic point of view, it is necessary to study it for many other reasons. It is necessary to reexamine the place of a human being in the world vis-à-vis the innovations of modern society. As the world changes throughout the years, the human condition is altered as well. The place a person occupies in the world may become unclear, confusing, and barely justified. What if the disabled and the ones who lost their loved ones in the world are not the only types of people that will eventually suffer from a feeling of isolation? Even though the painting depicts Christina Olson, who suffered from a misunderstood condition with muscle degeneration, it is also a symbol of all those who are in need of compassion, support, direction, and empowerment. Since Wyeth admitted he would have painted it differently if he had had the chance, it is a captivating idea to perceive this piece of art as a message that has been developing over the years. The meaning conveyed in Christina’s World points to the critical condition of humanity throughout the ages. It is crucial for us to study this artwork, as it is indicative of the place of a human being in relation to others, the society, and the world community.
Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth is a painting in a genre of realism. This artwork addresses many important issues of the day, including social isolation, the disabled, and the feeling of being lost and perplexed by the disappointing and hurtful reality. It shows us the importance of determining the place of a human being in the patchwork of the global community, as well as in social relations on the local scale.
Andrew Wyeth: Christina’s World. (n.d.). Web.
Duggan, B. The world behind Wyeth’s Christina’s World. (n.d.). Web.
Esaak, S. An In-Depth Look at Christina’s World. (n.d.). Web.
Fischer, C. T. (1994). Individualizing psychological assessment. Hillsdale, NJ: Psychology Press.
Potter, P. (2006). On the threshold of illness and emotional isolation. Emerging infectious diseases, 12(5), 878-890.
Puchko, K. Fifteen Things You Might Not Know About ‘Christina’s World. (n.d.). Web.