An Affair with Beauty — The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy | Romantic Illusions

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The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy: Romantic Illusions is the second book in a three-part series by James Philip Head, chronicling the life of famous illustrator and artist Howard Chandler Christy. Originally from a small town in Ohio, Christy rose to fame during the first half of the twentieth century by creating his “Christy Girls,” illustrations of ideal feminine beauty that graced the covers of luxury fashion magazines. Indeed, the part of Christy’s story that is so endearing is his ultimate fulfillment of the American Dream. His story, that of a small-town artist who, through hard work and ingenuity, makes something of himself, is the story of America during the early 1900s.

Romantic Illusions picks up where the first book ends: Ohio, Christmas 1912. Christy and his model, Nancy Palmer, are spending the holidays in the mansion Christy built near his childhood home, known familiarly as the “Barracks.” Sitting fireside, Christy begins to tell Ms. Palmer his life story, from his first trip to New York City to study art through his time working as a war correspondent during the American-Spanish war.

Although Romantic Illusions tells the story of Christy’s life, it is narrated by Ms. Palmer using her own recollections of his story and the years they spent together. This separation from Christy himself choice is an apt narration tactic, as it is only through art that we see the man, and it is only through his own art that Christy was able to see the world. Christy’s story, and indeed all of our own, are always filtered through something or someone else, whether that be the recollections of family, the records we leave behind, or our art. It is a reminder that Christy’s search for “the ideal” would prove to be ultimately unfruitful. In the book, he says, “I see nothing but the beautiful. Beauty is everywhere. There is illusion too, but I don’t allow myself to see it.” (p. 240). What he does not see is that it is only the illusion of beauty that he captures. He takes the world and makes it beautiful in his art, not the other way around.

Head’s prose captures early twentieth-century speech with seamless effort, immersing the reader in Christy’s world. The reader not only gets the benefit of Head’s prose but also comes face to face with Christy’s art. Throughout the book Head has inserted Christy’s illustrations and portraits, giving us more a glimpse of Christy’s soul that cannot simply be told.

Reviewed By:

Author James Philip Head
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 478 pages
Publisher North Loop Books
Publish Date 2019-03-03
ISBN 9781545635270 Buy this Book
Issue May 2019
Category Art, Architecture & Photography


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