“Christina’s World” is an iconic American painting that has resonated with the general public since it was created in 1948. Just hear the title and most of us conjure up an image of a woman in a pink dress on a grass-covered, treeless hillside raising herself from a reclining position and looking up toward an old farmhouse on the hill’s crest.
The painter was Andrew Wyeth, a Pennsylvania native who adopted Maine and knew the woman, Anna Christina Olson, depicted in the painting. She was a disabled woman who spent her entire life in that Cushing, Maine, farmhouse. The artist and his subject lived near one another and were friends for decades. Christina was disabled from the waist down and got around her property by dragging herself along as the painting suggests.
That so many millions of people are mesmerized by “Christina’s World” caused my great surprise to read in a Boston Globe article last month that most art “experts” disdain Wyeth’s 1948 painting. A link in the article took me to an August 2016 article by Daniel Grant on observer.com entitled: “Why Do Art Critics Still Hate Andrew Wyeth?” It was filled with quotes from snotty art critics who consider Wyatt’s work to be “kitsch.” For those unfamiliar with the term, my online dictionary defines kitsch as: “considered to be in poor taste because of excessive garishness; vulgar, tawdry, gaudy, cheap, tacky.”
Grant answered the article’s question by saying: “Certainly, critics have held the artist’s conservative political leanings against him, as evidenced in Wyeth’s New York Times obituary in which critic Michael Kimmelman found it relevant to point out that ‘he voted for Nixon and Reagan.’” Grant also mentioned that: “The New Yorker’s Peter Schjeldahl told the Observer, a Wyeth nude ‘generates approximately no sensual charge except maybe of a repressed sex-in-the-head, Republican variety that I’d rather not think about.’”
There’s a Republican variety of sex? Who knew?
Evidently, this condescension toward Wyeth is widespread in the artsy-fartsy world. They’re worshipers of what they refer to as “abstract expressionist” artists like Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko and Willem de Kooning. I’ve seen work by those men, and my impression is that “kitsch” would be much more appropriately applied to their stuff than to Andrew Wyeth’s. According to the Globe, “Christina’s World” is kept in the back room at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which purchased it 70 years ago for $1,800. “Even when MoMA did display ‘Christina’s World,’” said the Globe, “it was stranded, without context, on a fifth-floor hallway between an escalator and the restrooms.”
Globe writer Christina Baker Kline considers “Christina’s World” to be a masterpiece but uses fuzzy “art speak” language to describe it: “Christina is the archetypal individual against a backdrop of nature, fully present in the moment and yet a haunting reminder of the immensity of time. She is paradoxically singular and representative, exposed and enigmatic, hardy and vulnerable.”
Why do art people talk that way?
The Portland Museum of Art had an impressive exhibition on Andrew’s father, N.C. Wyeth recently, and I loved it. I was annoyed, however, by some of the critical comments posted right beside several of his paintings. During his long career, N.C. Wyeth illustrated many classic American books, including “Last of the Mohicans” and “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Today’s lefty spokespeople for Maine’s Indian tribes were allowed to make derogatory comments about Wyeth’s depiction of Mohican and Iroquois Indians from the book. The original paintings were displayed at the PMA.
They claimed Wyeth’s illustrations were inauthentic as to native dress and depicted whites in superior positions next to Indians. But how do today’s Maine Indians know what was authentic 2 ½ enturies ago? The novel was set in the 1750s during the French and Indian War. Author James Fenimore Cooper is believed to have consulted the diary of Col. Joseph Frye, founder of Fryeburg, Maine, in his research.
Frye was in command of 823 men of the Massachusetts Militia at the Battle of Fort William Henry depicted in Cooper’s novel. He witnessed slaughter by Wabanaki Huron and other Indian tribes — allied to the French — of men, women and children who were allowed to depart the fort under truce after Col. Monro negotiated a surrender to Gen. Montcalm. Frye, himself, barely escaped with his life.
What research did Maine’s politically correct Indians of today access that N.C. Wyeth or Fenimore Cooper did not? Photography wasn’t available until the mid-19th century, and how many drawings of 18th-century American Indians surviving to the 20th century are by non-Indian (read European) artists? Are they less authentic than those made by Indians at the time? I suspect it’s the opposite. This may be evidence that the snotty left, which controls the art world, wishes to control history as well.
By this, I’m reminded of George Orwell’s quote from his novel “1984”: “Who controls the past controls the future.”
Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine. He can be reached on his website at tommclaughlin.blogspot.com.