Many a time, an insignificant, uninspiring painting at an exhibition, is over-looked or not noticed by art lovers until the miracle happen.

This is exactly what happened to Andrew Wyeth's CHRISTINA'S WORLD that became one of the most icon paintings in American art history. No one took a second look at this painting unless he was informed about it history and background. The same happened to me when browsing through the magnificent paintings hanging on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art when I suddenly paused at Christina's World. A curator appeared from nowhere and updated me on this painting.

After listening to her narration, the more I looked at the painting, more vivid it became. Perhaps the inspirational story behind the painting can artistically magnify on eye-contact and hypnotize with its hidden characters the artist had painfully evolved, never dreaming Christina' World will be an iconic art piece of the suture. The broader artistic contexts are invaluable for reviewing, exploring or interpreting Wyeth's masterpiece.

But it was not easy for Andrew Wyeth even to bypass art historian, Robert Rosenberg who pronounced it as one of the best an American painted had done in the last century when simultaneously he faced well-loved and scorned works that ignited heated arguments about parochialism and sentimentality. He also stirred art-world elitism that continued to absorb even after his death in 2009. The curious focus of Wyeth on art especially on CHRISTINA'S WORLD remains a mystery that continues to debate and arouse pinions on a painter that never rose to glory among Americans. Give him time. Even in death he will speak about his iconic painting because he died only seven years ago.


Christina Olsen's parents were from Massachusetts. The painting HATHORN HOUSE painted by Wyeth was built for her family in 1801and turned into a boarding house in 1871. Her father was Swedish who met her mother of the Maine Coast and decided to live there. As young a girl, Christina developed a muscle condition known as polio that denied her the use of her legs when she reached her early thirties. One of the four siblings, she never married but decided to live with her brother, Alvaro and her father. Although handicapped and supported by her brother's meager income from his small farm, Christina became a part of her South Cushing community and refused to accept the fact as an object of pity. Instead, she refused the use of a wheel chair, preferring to scoot across the kitchen floor or when outside using her arms to drag her lower body along.

Her brave but pathetic condition inspired Wyeth to paint CHRISTINA'S WORLD that became a iconic inspiration to America as an example of self bravery and faith in one's self. Wyeth met her when she was in her forties.


The painter had set up his studio in the Olson home which was a large clapboard house on top of hill where he had a birds-eye view of Christina where he had seen her and chose to paint from the reverse perspective with HATHORN HOUSE in the background. She is virtually placed on grass alongside her encouraging to visually join her in the uphill struggle. It allowed Wyeth to indulge him into his chosen medium and tools, better known as tempera best applied with tiny brushes which a renders all minute details. This painting will reveal tempera if you take a closer look.

He began painting and completed it in September. His attention was focused on every brush stroke however minute they were. He used egg tempera which is a substance of powdered pigment combined with egg yolk and distilled water which when dried creates hard and durable surface. He used extremely thin brushes some with few hair.

When he painted Christina, she was in her mid-fifties but transformed her to a much younger women with a winsome figure by reproducing two elements, mainly her ricket arms and pink dress with Christina's face turned away from view thus making her body look that of a twenty six year housewife. Wyeth's Christina is less a picture of a living woman than an allegorical figure of American womanhood. However, the figure of Christina is the central figure where every details contribute to the idea of grandeur that is found in life.

Though loathed and beloved since its debut sixty five years ago, Christina's WORLD is one of the best known paintings the Museum of Modern Art holds among its 150,000 collections and a test for American culture and her artists. 

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