A woman in a pink dress is sitting alone in a treeless, mostly tawny field. She is propping herself up with thin arms, staring at her place in the distance. Who is this woman, and what is she doing alone in a field?
At the age of 20, Andrew Wyeth sold out all of his works showcased at his first personal exhibition heralding early success, but it was this painting that he painted at 31 that brought him fame. The woman in the painting was Anna Christina Olson who lived in Maine. She was a friend and neighbor of Wyeth and was first introduced to him seven years ago by his wife Betsy. She had a degenerative muscular disorder and could not walk from roughly 30 years old but firmly refused to use a wheelchair. She preferred to drag herself with her arms as depicted in the painting. Wyeth was inspired by Olson crossing a field outside his window. Olson was 55 years old at the time, but she looked young in the painting as then 26-year-old Wyeth’s wife was used as a model. The title “Christina's World” refers to the strong mental world of Olson, rather than her disabled body, paying tribute to her friend boldly overcoming her handicap. It is a painting that shows human’s strong determination and attitude toward life of staying strong against any challenge.
Wyeth first showcased the painting in the same year he drew it at his personal exhibition in New York but was met with chily reception from experts. As it was a time when abstract painters, including Jackson Pollock, were drawing attention, Wyeth’s realism painting in tempera, not even in oil paints, was considered outdated. However, Alfred Barr, the director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, saw it differently. He saw the values of the painting and bought it immediately. The painting gained more attention with the director’s promotion and eventually became one of the most well-known pieces at MoMA and the icon of the 20th-century American art. Olson also became the symbol of a strong human being overcoming a handicap and her place became a famous spot for visitors.