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Art and Images in Psychiatry
May 2009

Christina's World

Author Affiliations

James C.HarrisMD


Copyright 2009 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2009

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009;66(5):466. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.49

The challenge to me was to do justice to her extraordinary conquest of a life which most people would consider hopeless.—Andrew Wyeth1

Seventeen-year-old Betsy James just wanted to see if her new acquaintance, 22-year-old Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009), would go inside the 16-room farmhouse in Cushing, Maine, to meet her adult friend Christina Olson. Many wouldn’t, she said, because of the smell and the odors2(p144)that were magnified by the heat on that hot summer's day in July 1939. Christina (1893-1969) had been physically handicapped since childhood, and it was difficult for her to keep the farmhouse clean. Betsy tended to ignore her disability and enjoyed being with her, picking flowers in her garden, and listening to Christina's stories about her ancestor John Hathorn, who presided as chief judge at the Salem witch trials.3Wyeth, Betsy's future husband, passed her litmus test that day; he did go in.3Soon afterwards Wyeth was a fixture in the Olson home, establishing a studio on the upper floor and painting Christina's Worldthere; Betsy proposed the title. Despite its popularity, the details of Christina Olson's life and the emotional significance of the painting for Wyeth are not well known.

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