Christina’s World is a 1948 painting by American painter Andrew Wyeth, and one of the best-known American paintings of the middle 20th century. It depicts a woman lying on the ground in a treeless, mostly tawny field, looking up at a gray house on the horizon; a barn and various other small outbuildings are adjacent to the house.
This tempera work, done in a realist style called magic realism, is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as a part of its permanent collection.
Facts About Painting
THERE WAS A REAL CHRISTINA.
The 31-year-old Wyeth modeled the painting’s frail-looking brunette after his neighbor in South Cushing, Maine. Anna Christina Olson suffered from a degenerative muscular disorder that prevented her from walking. Rather than using a wheelchair, Olson crawled around her home and the surrounding grounds, as seen in Christina’s World.
PAGES AND PAGES OF SKETCHES PRECEDED THE PAINTING.
Wyeth was obsessed with getting the position of Christina’s arms and hands just right. Today these sketches are tenderly preserved for posterity.
OLSON WAS NOT THE PAINTING’S ONLY MODEL.
The concept, title, pink dress, and slim limbs were modeled after Olson, who was in her mid-50s when Christina’s World was created. But Wyeth asked his then 26-year-old wife to sit in as a model for the head and torso.
CHRISTINA’S WORLD WAS ONE OF SEVERAL PAINTINGS WYETH DID OF OLSON.
She was a recurring muse and model for Wyeth, captured in paintings like Miss Olson, Christina Olson, and Anna Christina.
CHRISTINA’S WORLD WAS MET WITH LITTLE FANFARE.
Wyeth’s timing wasn’t quite right. He finished the painting in 1948, which meant the magical realism masterpiece debuted at a time when Abstract Expressionism was all the rage.
WYETH WAS INITIALLY UNHAPPY WITH CHRISTINA’S WORLD.
Though it would become his best-known work and an icon of American art, Christina’s World was described by Wyeth as “a complete flat tire” when he sent it off to the Macbeth Gallery for a show in 1948. He also wondered if the painting would have been improved if he “painted just that field and have you sense Christina without her being there.”
NONETHELESS, CHRISTINA’S WORLD FOUND A MAJOR SUPPORTER.
Alfred Barr, the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, was so taken with Wyeth’s work that he purchased Christina’s World for $1800. While the early critical reception was lukewarm to cool, the painting’s prestigious position at MoMA fortified its reputation. Today it’s one of the museum’s most admired exhibits.
CHRISTINA’S WORLD‘S PLACE IN THE ART PANTHEON IS STILL A MATTER OF DEBATE.
Though undeniably iconic, the painting has long been undermined by vocal detractors. Art historians have often snubbed Wyeth’s works in their surveys, and some naysayers have attacked the painting’s widespread popularity, deriding it as “a mandatory dorm room poster.” Meanwhile, critics have chastised Wyeth’s attention on Olson’s infirmity and characterized it as exploitation. Still others claim there was no art in rendering realistic imagery in paint.
CHRISTINA’S WORLD‘S FARMHOUSE IS A REAL PLACE.
It was Olson’s home, which she shared with her younger brother, Alvaro. But Wyeth took some liberties with its architecture and surrounding landscape to better emphasize the scope of Christina’s journey.
CHRISTINA’S WORLD MADE OLSON FAMOUS.
Shortly after the painting made its MoMA debut, one overzealous admirer walked into Olson’s home, came upon her resting, and asked for an autograph. Twenty years later, her death made national news, reviving interest in Christina’s World.
MOMA HAS ONLY LOANED OUT CHRISTINA’S WORLD ONCE.
Following Wyeth’s death in 2009 at the age of 91, the museum allowed Christina’s World to visit its creator’s birthplace, Chadds Ford, Penn., where the Brandywine River Museum exhibited the polarizing painting for two days in memorial before returning it to New York.
WYETH IS BURIED NEAR HIS PAINTING’S BIRTHPLACE.
Down the hill from the Olson house lies a cemetery, where Andrew Wyeth’s grave can be found in the family plot of Alvaro and Anna Christina Olson. Wyeth’s tombstone faces up toward the house at an angle that closely resembles that of Christina’s World. According to his surviving family, it was his final wish “to be with Christina.”