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

ISBN: 9781545635278
Binding: Hardcover
Author: James Philip Head
Pages: 478
Trim: 6 x 9 inches
Published: 1/15/2019

Fame, fortune, and beautiful models – Howard Chandler Christy had them all.

Christy was the most famous American painter of the Jazz Age, a time when an elite brotherhood of New York artists dominated the publishing world. Christy had eclipsed all of them with his “Christy Girl,” an idealized woman who redefined beauty, influenced fashion, and inspired generations of women. Illustrated in popular magazines, best-selling novels, and top-ranked newspapers, the “Christy Girl” transformed the artist into a household name.

In Romantic Illusions, the second book in Head’s An Affair with Beauty trilogy, Christy once again comes to life through the eyes of Nancy Palmer Christy, his wife and former model, as she recounts her first Christmas with Howard and his family at his Ohio mansion, the Barracks, in 1912.

Howard tells of his early years studying art in near-poverty in New York City and his sudden ascent to stardom as the top pupil of William Merritt Chase, the premier portrait painter in America. During “The Great Flood of 1913” – the worst tragedy the Midwest had ever experienced—Howard describes his daring experiences with Teddy Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War in Cuba and his brush with near-certain death, no less than three times. The effects of the war profoundly transform Howard, inspiring him to create his vision of beauty, the “Christy Girl,” which catapults him to stardom.

When romance blossoms between artist and model, Howard is slow to seek a divorce from his estranged wife, Maebelle, jeopardizing Nancy’s desires and compelling her to uncover his scandalous past. As World War I break out, Howard returns to New York City, forcing Nancy to risk everything as she reveals her true feelings for him.


As a freshman at the University of Maryland Jim Head discovered a gilt-edged folio of Charles Dana Gibson's The Social Ladder in the stacks of the campus library one night starting him on a journey to learn more about Gibson and the "Illustrators of Beauty." In turn he became captivated with the talent fame and eventual obscurity of Howard Chandler Christy and began amassing the largest private collection of information related to the artist and his wife Nancy. Over the years to reveal the true untold story he has engaged research assistants uncovered thousands of letters and newspaper articles and traveled throughout the US to interview dozens of people including family members former models and others who knew the artist and his family. Head is a lawyer in Tysons Corner Virginia where he concentrates in estate planning and trust and estate litigation. He lives in Chantilly Virginia with his wife Rita and daughter Christianna.

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