Home Arts and Leisure Andrew Wyeth’s First Date With Christina Olson and Her World

Andrew Wyeth’s First Date With Christina Olson and Her World

It was also his first date with his future wife


Andrew Wyeth met his future wife and Christina Olson, the subject of his most famous painting, on the same day – his 22nd birthday.

Christina's World, by Andrew Wyeth

Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth

Christina Olson was born on May 3, 1893 and as a child contracted a disease that curbed her mobility — probably Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease. Her  world was then limited to her farm on Hathorne’s Point in Cushing, Maine, where she lived with her brother Alvaro.  The house had been in their family for generations, since Capt. Samuel Hathorne II built it in the late 18th century.

Wyeth spent summers at his own family’s summer home in Cushing.

Christina Olson

In The Art of Andrew Wyeth, Brian O’Doherty described his visit to the Olsons at their farm.

“…the first thing that one notices about Christina is her voice,” he wrote. “It is firmly lucid, a practical countrywoman’s voice, and it immediately wipes out her myth, the romantic half-pitiable aura of a spirit strait-jacketed into immobility. Her voice is immediate, without self-pity, and she follows what she has to say with a shrewd slow look from her brown eyes. She has a force of character that would make any condescension to her paralysis an insult.”

“She rules like a queen,” Wyeth once said.

Wyeth met the Olsons on a date with Betsy James – July 12, 1939. He went to Betsy’s house, and she then drove him to the Olson farm. Betsy vaguely remembered the reason: She’d just learned to drive and wanted to go somewhere. She and Andrew married the next year.

Years after meeting Christina Olson, Wyeth later said, she didn’t make much of an impression on him. The farmhouse did. The Olsons let him set up a studio in a room on the second floor. Looking out the window one day in 1948, Wyeth saw Christina Olson crawling in the field and got the inspiration for Christina’s World.

He worked on the background for two months, while closely sketching Christina’s hair, body and hands. Betsy posed for the figure. “I worked on the hill for months, that brown grass, and kept thinking about her in her pink dress like a faded lobster shell I might find on the beach, crumpled,” he said.

When it came time to lay in the figure, he put a pink tone on her shoulder – “and it almost blew me across the room.”

Flat Tire — Not

Wyeth then hung the painting in his house in Maine and no one reacted to it. “I thought, Boy, is this one ever a flat tire,” he said.

He was wrong. From then on he started receiving letters about Christina’s World — about one a week.

He had painted Christina Olson many times on her farm. Christina’s World, she said, was her favorite.

Alvaro Olson died on Christmas Eve in 1967, and Christina Olson died a month later. They were buried on their property in their family cemetery. Andrew Wyeth died on Jan. 16, 2009. He, too, was buried in the Olson family cemetery.

Andrew Wyeth receiving the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush in 2007.

The farmhouse, a National Historic Landmark, is now owned by the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, Maine. Christina’s World hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

This story about Christina Olson was updated in 2023. The image of Christina’s World By http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=78455, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8005786. 


Sally Shaw Lobkowicz January 16, 2014 - 10:49 pm

Check with the Farnsworth, I don’t believe it was Polio!

Molly Landrigan January 17, 2014 - 12:55 pm

I’ve always loved this painting!

Sarah Scott April 21, 2018 - 11:27 pm

This needs to be updated since they now think Christina’s disease was probably Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, according to a May 15, 2016 article led by Dr. Ruth J. Hickman. The diagnosis was made by Dr. Marc Patterson, a professor of neurology, pediatrics and medical genetics at the Mayo Clinic. I found this information on the internet.

Six Iconic Paintings From the New England States - New England Historical Society May 5, 2018 - 7:44 am

[…] Wyeth produced many iconic paintings, but Christina’s World tops them all. In it, Wyeth manages to combine the toughness, beauty and aspiration of a woman who […]

The Greatest New England High School Football Rivalries - New England Historical Society November 26, 2019 - 4:07 pm

[…] Several fistfights livened up the game, which featured frequent fumbles and ended in a 0-0 tie. Andrew Wyeth’s uncle managed the first all-boys’ team in […]

Comments are closed.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest artciles from the New England Historical Society

Thanks for Signing Up!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join Now and Get The Latest Articles. 

It's Free!

You have Successfully Subscribed!