An Affair with Beauty — The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy | The Magic of Youth
An Affair with Beauty—The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy is a trilogy on the life of the artist written by James Philip Head. The first book in the trilogy, The Magic of Youth, introduces readers to Christy through the perspective of his second wife, Nancy Palmer Christy, who initially met him when she became his model in 1912.
By 1912, Christy had achieved considerable success as an illustrator and portrait artist. His illustrations of various battles and prominent military members during the Spanish- American War garnered attention and respect for his work, including that of Theodore Roosevelt.
Head transports readers flawlessly through Nancy’s transition, at barely twenty years of age, from Poughkeepsie to Manhattan, where she was determined to become the next “Gibson Girl.” Instead, artist Charles Dana Gibson introduced her to Howard Chandler Christy, who hired her as his model, moved her to his home and studio near Zanesville, Ohio, (the Barracks) where he lived a refined life with his young daughter, his parents, and staff.
Head’s writing meticulously uses the language of the era as he allows the story of the first months of work between artist and model to unfold. Through her memories, the complicated genius of one of America’s pre-eminent artists comes to life. The Christy residence hosted luminaries and important events. As Christy’s model, Nancy was privy to insider events and information, including witnessing the visit of his estranged wife and former model, Maebelle. Despite the tension of this turn of events, Nancy does not waiver from her belief that she will one day be not only the Christy Girl, but the wife of Howard Chandler Christy. Her optimism is bolstered by Noel Talbot, Christy’s caretaker, who becomes Nancy’s confidante.
This first installment of the trilogy begins on the day Christy died in 1952, and then circles back to 1912, when he and Nancy met. Amidst the glamour and fame lie hints of shadows from the past. I am looking forward to the second book, Romantic Illusions an excerpt of which is included in The Magic of Youth.
James Philip Head
North Loop Books