My Favourite Painting: Sir Mark Prescott

Racehorse trainer Sir Mark Prescott chooses a haunting portrait.

Sir Mark Prescott on Christina Olson by Andrew Wyeth

‘Christina, the artist’s principal model for 20 years, is semi-paralysed. At the end of a long day, she contemplates the warm wind and setting sun, leaning against a weathered door and its out-of-keeping porcelain handle.

‘It’s a haunting image, suited to Wyeth’s muted palette and painstaking technique, with which he lovingly portrayed the countryside and the people around Maine for 70 years. It has fascinated me for 50 years.’

Sir Mark Prescott Bt is a leading Flat racehorse trainer.

John McEwen on Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth’s artist father, N. C., was famed as an illustrator, a reputation he despised. Art was a higher calling and Andrew, his youngest child, became his apprentice at 15: ‘Pa kept me almost in a jail.’ The family divided the year between rural Pennsylvania and the Maine coast, so these remained his subjects. As he wrote to his father: ‘I know you were always right when you said the place where you were born is the place for an artist to paint.’

Wyeth said ‘I paint my life’ and he was driven by symbolic moments. On July 12, 1939, he met Betsy Merle James in Maine, who, the same day, introduced him to some neighbours, Alvaro Olson and his sister, Christina. Betsy and Andrew married in 1940. On October 19, 1945, Wyeth’s father died when a train hit his car.

Strangely, October 19 also marked the 1932 start of Wyeth’s apprenticeship and the 1937 opening of his first exhibition. The coincidence turned him introspective. Two subjects consumed him: his neighbours, the Olsons of Cushing in Maine, and the Kuerners of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.

In 1948, the New York Museum of Modern Art bought Christina’s World, today Wyeth’s most famous work, which showed Christina, who was paralysed from the waist down, crawling towards her bleak home. This painting, precisely described by Sir Mark, is its predecessor. Wyeth said: ‘Some people say that artists ought to work for utter simplicity. I say to hell with that! Let’s get it all in there!’ But he is not photographic; he changed what he saw to suit his inner compulsion.

Betsy Wyeth died in Chadds Ford on April 21 last year.