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Christina's World (1948), Andrew Wyeth, MoMA

 
       
 

Andrew Wyeth's World

   
 

A Maine Mystery!

   

 

  

 

Andrew Wyeth died two weeks ago at the age of 91, a polarizing figure in the American art world - considered a master by some, disdained by others for the streak of populism in his work.  Wyeth courted publicity like a rock star and the public loved him back.  His most famous work is perhaps Christina's World, which continues to exert its eerie charms and is among the most-reproduced paintings of the 20th century.  Wyeth's large tempera painting is of Christina Olson, a disabled woman, as she sits on the grass, face mysteriously turned away from the viewer, looking up towards the Olson Home, a weather-beaten farmhouse.

A fascinating quality of Christina's World is its ability to straddle worlds, to appear at once realistic and Gothic, to simultaneously soothe and disturb.  A timelessness within the realism of his work, as if a detailing of every hair or blade of grass holds the picture still in the eternity of a Maine afternoon.  Wyeth achieves this tension by means of simple composition and visual implication and the painting's strange pull lies in its sense of mystery.  Christina's face is entirely hidden.  She is without identity and one wonders who Christina really is, as well as why her world seems so strangely empty.  The sky above is perfectly gray and clear in an unnatural way; there is not a cloud or bird in the unmoving calm of it all.  The awkward position of Christina's body, her thin arms barely supporting her frame and her hair slightly disheveled implying that she has perhaps just woken up or may be hiding from something in the faraway farmhouses.  

Wyeth's grayish-green and brown palette contributes to the sense that is something is askew.  The fields stretch out endlessly. But mostly it is what Wyeth leaves out that produces the mystery and the almost palpable sense of desire: to see Christina's face, to know what she is thinking, to find out why she remains so distant - both literally and figuratively - from those plain, austere-looking sheds and farmhouse.  The viewer reads all these things (alienation, strangeness and mystery) into the work.  The tempera that he used provides a certain matte finish, a dulling of the colors.  Wyeth actually used the attic of the Olson Home as a studio when he was younger and said of the house, "In the portraits of that house, the windows are eyes or pieces of the soul, almost… to me, each window is a different part of Christina's life."  

 

See: Christina's World, MoMA

 

 

 

 

       
 

 
       
     

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