The artist Howard Chandler Christy, most well-known for creating the “Christy Girl,” was an artist famous in the early 1900s. While his name may be lesser known these days, his influence was felt far and wide, helping to frame the ideal image of female beauty for the time. James Philip Head’s book, An Affair with Beauty – The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy: The Magic of Youth is a fictionalized biography of Christy as seen through the eyes of his second wife, Nancy Mae Palmer. The book focuses on their initial meeting, the first few months of their acquaintance, and some of Christy’s early childhood memories.
There aren’t many books that focus on Christy’s life and so An Affair with Beauty is a welcome addition. However, its value to those searching for a true nonfiction study on the artist is minimal. While the author clearly did do research to frame the work, the fictionalized narrative structure makes one wonder exactly how much artistic license James Philip Head took when writing the book. In the beginning of the book there is a note that states “All quotations contained in this book originate from words either spoken or written by the person to whom they are ascribed,” and that “All italicized portions of the narrative are based upon words either spoken or written by the person to whom they are ascribed and are expressly devised to fit the context of the particular scene in which they are used.” These stylistic choices are easy to forget, and can be confusing to readers used to more traditional styles typically found in novels. While there is a notes section in the back of the book that includes some additional information and a list of the materials the author used in composing the book, there is a distinct lack of in-text footnote or endnote indicators, which readers of traditional biography formats may be expecting.
The book is largely useful as a curiosity for those interested in Christy’s life. There are plenty of images of his various illustrations and paintings within the book, which are a welcome addition, as well as photographs of Christy, his friends, and family. The narrative mostly told from Nancy’s point of view is engaging and will likely keep a more casual reader interested, although it often deviates into large tangents about Christy’s contemporaries, clients, and larger world events. An Affair with Beauty is the first in a planned trilogy to cover the life of the artist, so readers who expect this book to be a complete narrative will be somewhat disappointed. A great read for those with a casual interest, but mostly unhelpful for those with a more serious academic bend, An Affair with Beauty is an interesting hybrid that offers a glimpse into the life of a mostly forgotten American artist.
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