“Christina’s World” is a very famous artwork that was painted by Andrew Wyeth in 1948. Although we know its story, it’s interesting to talk about the questions it raises and the many interpretations it suggests.
The story behind “Christina’s World”
Anna Christina Olson and her brother Alvaro Olson lived on a farm in Cushing, Maine (USA). Anna Christina suffered from a degenerative muscle disease that prevented her from walking. One day, Andrew Wyeth, who was working in a studio on the second floor of the siblings’ house, saw Anna Christina crawling outside (she preferred crawling to using a wheelchair). This moved him and he decided to paint “Christina’s World”. This is a very short summary of the story. You can find more information on the Internet if you want to.
As you can see, this painting depicts a woman standing alone on the grass, looking at a farm in the distance. We don’t know much about this woman because we can only see her from behind. We have no idea of her age or her expression. All we can say is that the way she is sitting on the grass, and the way her hands and arms are painted (as if twisted), show that she is currently unable to reach the farm.
So what we see can clearly be related to what we know about Anna Christina Olson.
At first, seeing this painting and knowing what had inspired Andrew Wyeth made me uncomfortable. I didn’t like the idea of seeing a woman struggling, even if the illness wasn’t too obvious. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person to have felt that way when looking at this painting for the first time.
But then I did some research and discovered that the painter wanted to show Anna Christina‘s courage. She had a thirst for life and he admired that. In fact, they were close friends (and neighbours), they certainly trusted each other, and he painted her more than once. As for “Christina’s World”, rumour has it that Anna really liked it, saying that it helped her to travel mentally to places she could no longer go physically.
“Christina’s World” is one of my favourite paintings because, even if you know the story behind it, you still can take a step back and invent your own story while looking at it.
When I do so, I imagine that Christina is having a dream in which she is being chased by something or someone, so she keeps running and running. She finally ends up on a field and is so exhausted that she falls down. She’s desperate to get to the farm. The atmosphere is really tense, almost gloomy, but at the same time quite melancholy… yet I do believe that Christina will eventually get up and reach the house. There’s a sense of hope. I know it’s a simplistic interpretation, but I think we can build a bridge between that and what actually happened.
Indeed, I think that what pursues her is her illness, which prevents her from living a normal life, and she uses her strength to try to escape it and survive. She’s alone, she’s ill, but she fights with dignity. And the farm represents what she wants to reach physically and psychologically.
I also really like the title “Christina’s World”, as it suggests that what we see is what Christina experiences: in other words, what it feels like to be sick and then “different”. It puts us in her shoes. It plunges us into her world.
What do you think of “Christina’s World”?
With “Christina’s World”, Andrew Wyeth proved, as Hopper did, that a work of art doesn’t need many elements to be great and to raise questions and interpretations. That’s why I invite you to answer these questions: Is it a good idea to depict someone’s illness? What story comes to your mind when you look at “Christina’s World”?