An Affair with Beauty

James Philip Head
North Loop Books (2016)
ISBN 9781634138826
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (06/16)

Article first published as Book Review: ‘An Affair With Beauty’ by James Philip Head on Blogcritics.

“An Affair with Beauty – The Mystique of Howard Chandler Christy: The Magic of Youth,” is the first book in a trilogy by James Philip Head about the legendary artist Howard Chandler Christy. Howard is most famous for creating “The Christy Girl,” who was meant to represent the beautiful traits of the women from that era. His main inspiration was his beloved second wife, Nancy Palmer Christy. From the 1910s to the 1930s, she was thought to be one of the most beautiful women of that time. The author tells Howard’s story from the perspective of his wife. In this first book, we learn about how Howard’s achievements with painting people who later became historical legends and his love for painting beautiful women. Howard is also known for illustrating historical events that took place in the United States.

Incorporating vivid detail, photographs, and illustrations into this story, the author brings the Jazz era to life. Being able to see photographs of Howard from his childhood into his old age really helps illustrate the man he was. Having an opportunity to see his paintings and illustrations allowed me to see that while I recognized his famous works, I never knew the artist. He truly played a huge role in illustrating a great deal of American history. Whether he was painting The Signing of the United Nations Charter, or doing a portrait of a famous historical legend like General Douglas MacArthur, he truly knew how to capture the essence of the times. His Christy girls also brought the idea of the beauty of the women, at that time, to life.        

By telling this story from the wife’s perspective, the author is also able to capture more of who Howard Chandler Christy really was, at least from her perspective. She was fairly naïve when she met him. He helped introduce her to the upper crust of society. She does well in making an entrance into this world and, she is able to walk us into his past, especially since she was able to visit where he was raised. Nancy Palmer Christy clearly adored her husband and was supportive of his endeavors. Looking through her eyes, we also get to meet his first wife who seems like a very complicated character. Outliving him, Nancy learns a lot more about who he was as she goes through his paperwork while handling his estate. Stepping into the beginning and the end of his life, I am intrigued to see what the next two books will offer regarding Howard’s experiences in the middle parts.

The author, James Philip Head, truly has a gift for writing. His talent to write in vivid detail brings Howard Chandler Christy’s story to life. Having been able to interview people that knew Christy also creates a more intriguing story. Christy was an artist that went from rags to riches and he appeared to have no problems stepping into the upper echelons of society. His friends, many of whom were legends in their own right, appeared to be very loyal to him. He wasn’t just an artist, he was a legend. “An Affair with Beauty” is highly recommended reading for people who enjoy biographies, art history, and books about the history of the United States.

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