This is just an assortment of Victorian-era paintings (and one sculpture). I have nothing much to say here, so I’m just going to post the images . . .
Despite having a pretty rough start (his parents were impoverished, his father reportedly hated him, and he had difficulty establishing himself in his early years as more modern styles were blossoming), Swedish artist Carl Larsson led something of a charmed life. As his family grew, so too did his popularity, and he became a regular contributor to many well-known magazines of the era, including Jugend. His style is organic but clean; he even dabbled in sequential art, making him one of the the first Scandinavian comics creators. Larsson and his stunningly attractive wife Karin, also an artist and designer, had eight children, whom Larsson adored profoundly (breaking the pattern of his cold and abusive father), making them the subject of much of his art. Holidays were a big deal at the Larsson household and there are several pieces by Larsson to attest to this.
Iduna (alternately Idun or Idunn in anglicized form) is the Norse goddess of youth and the guardian of the golden apples which the gods consume to maintain their immortality. Here Larsson’s daughter Brita portrays her for an image that was used for the 1901 Christmas issue of a magazine named for the goddess.
Now this is a Christmas feast!
St. Lucy is one of the few saints celebrated in Scandinavia, and her day, December 13th, is associated with Christmas. Traditionally, the eldest daughter in a family or an older girl in a village is selected to portray the saint, in which she is crowned with a headpiece bearing lights or candles, and then she leads a procession of younger sisters or other girls as they go about passing out candies or other treats to smaller children. At least, that’s how I understand it. 🙂
Another of my favorite illustrators, Arthur Rackham is one of the major names—or perhaps the major name—associated with the American Golden Age of illustration. One of the things I most like about Rackham’s work is the fact that his children are not terribly exaggerated, even if the adults sometimes are. This demonstrates a respect for kids that, say, Norman Rockwell lacked. Rockwell’s work tends to sacrifice children’s dignity on the altar of humor, but I will get into that when I deal with Rockwell proper. Back to Rackham: whilst Rockwell’s art displays the quintessentially American disdain for children while strongly reinforcing American values, stylistically Rackham tended to follow the European tradition of romanticizing children, which in my book is the lesser of the two evils.
What balances this romanticism out is the grittiness and detail with which he invests his art. Rackham’s illustrations often have a density and gravitas that many of his contemporaries were unable to achieve whilst still maintaining the decorative aspects and sinuous lines that were indicative of the illustration work of the era. Thus, Rackham could shift from a darker mode to a lighter one with ease.
His Christmas illustrations fit into the lighter mode. He made two major contributions to Christmas: one was his illustrations for an edition Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Christmas Carol first published in 1915; the other was work accompanying a 1931 printing of Clement C. Moore’s “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” (shortened to just “The Night Before Christmas” for the printing.) I particularly like the latter—the illustrations are richly colored, and I enjoy Rackham’s take on Santa as an actual elf-sized being rather than the full-sized human he is normally depicted as. This makes perfect sense for a creature who is able to climb up and down the interiors of chimneys.
Art Passions: Arthur Rackham (There’s a ton of great Rackham art here)
There were two people—both Americans—who were largely responsible for our modern conception of Santa Claus. On of them was Clement C. Moore, whose poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known as “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”), was first published in 1823 and is the most recognized American poem of all time. The other was political cartoonist extraordinaire Thomas Nast. He was born in Germany but had migrated to America with his family as a small child. Despite a poor showing education-wise, Nast became a major figure in American politics via his cutting wit and powerful imagery, which often had a sticking power that modern political cartoonists can only envy. It was Nast who created the donkey and elephant as symbols of the Democratic and Republican Parties respectively, for example, and his cartoons were of such persuasive power that Boss Tweed actually attempted to bribe the Harper’s Weekly artist with a half million dollars to leave him alone!
Nast’s version of Santa Claus very much complimented Moore’s. In fact, he clearly drew inspiration from the Moore poem. The cartoonist’s St. Nick was first published in Harper’s Weekly in 1862 and was associated initially with the American Civil War, employed by Nast to bring hope and good cheer to Americans during those dark years. Although his political cartoons could be ruthless, Nast’s Christmas illustrations bore a completely different tone, every bit as elaborately rendered as his political stuff, yet generally warm, joyful and alluring rather than harsh and critical. Nast did other Christmas cartoons as well, but it was his iconic Santa Claus that most resonated with the public.
The World of Thomas Nast [link no longer valid]
Merry Christmas! From now until the end of the year I am going to do a series of Christmas-related art, since I have a bunch of it pulled. Our first artist is Sulamith Wülfing, a German illustrator I have been fascinated with ever since I first encountered her work in a Bud Plant catalog several years ago. Her work is romantic and spiritual in nature and highly decorative, drawing from traditions of art nouveau and the fairy tale illustrators of both the Victorian era and her own early twentieth century era.
Wülfing, the daughter of Theosophist parents, led an interesting life right from the get-go. She, like William Blake (another artist she draws inspiration from), claimed that as a child she could see all sorts of creatures and beings invisible to others, such as angels, fairies and sprites. These experiences would inform her art for the rest of her life. Although much of her work was destroyed during WWII when a bomb struck her Wuppertal home, she managed to stay artistically productive and created and published hundreds of pieces before she died, no small feat considering the amount of detail she put into each work.
The artist clearly adored holidays, Christmas in particular, as she generated several Christmas-themed pieces. Here are a few . . .
Zinaida Serebriakova is a fascinating figure. A beauty in her own right, she could’ve modeled for other painters had she chosen to do so, but instead she entered art school and studied beneath Ilya Repin, one of Russia’s most renowned painters and sculptors, becoming one of the first female painters in Russia to achieve national (and ultimately international) acclaim. As with many female painters of the period, her work often focused on children and family life, particularly her own. Below you can see a self-portrait of Serebriakova, painted when she was around 25.