In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

July 2017

 - Thursday, July 06, 2017


The state of Maine, with its rocky coast and rugged terrain, has produced more than it’s fair share of memorable imagery, in both art and literature. One of the most memorable images, for me, is the other-worldly, rather unnerving painting, Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth painted in 1948. A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline is a novel based on the real Christina in the painting, Christina Olson.
Born into rural poverty in 1893, she had a degenerative muscular disorder that attacked her legs—and eventually took away her independence and any hope for a ‘normal’ life. A very intelligent child, she was stopped from pursuing her education—despite being offered a teaching job at her school. And although she had a place in her community, she hardly had an easy time of it. Andrew Wyeth chose Christina, her brother, and their farm as subjects of many of his drawings and paintings; but it is the image of her lying awkwardly in the grass, her back to the artist with the farm house some way in the distance, that captured the collective imagination. Christina does evoke sympathy in the reader of this book, but it’s Andrew Wyeth who really leaps from the page. I would have liked to read more about him, and his artistic process, and his really extraordinary parents. Thankfully, there are other books to be read about the Wyeth family, and I’m going to track them down.


Kate Forsyth’s new book Beauty in Thorns is stuffed with facts about the Pre-Raphaelite painters and their models, and she has created a really vivid world that pulls the reader in with fascinating details about their work, and the extraordinarily complicated way they lived. Focussing on Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, the story starts early in their careers, and takes us through the various dramas and tribulations and exultations of their artistic lives—as a group and as individuals. Most interestingly, the author spends time imagining the lives of the wives of these artists—the doomed Lizzie Siddal, beautiful Jane Burden and the really long suffering Georgiana McDonald, who married Edward Burne-Jones when he was just Ted Jones. These woman were artists in their own right, as well models, and their husbands were able to burn brightly in their careers because their wives toiled in the background, sustaining the idyll of art and beauty. The author alludes to fairy tales and myths, (favourite motifs of these artists) as well as using quotes from Georgiana Burne-Jones’ Memorials of Edward Burne-Jones, creating a rich and believable setting for the book. Don’t be put off by the corny cover, because despite being a bit breathless at times, this is a very enjoyable and highly informative book that brings a whole art movement to life. Louise