American Art · European Art

Christmas, Winter, and Holiday Paintings – A Scholarly Skater’s Picks, part one

Sometimes, the problem with writing about art is that I can’t feature every single work that I like. I usually have to narrow things down and eliminate images that I really love because they don’t fit my topic or work with my concept for the piece. I’ve written several Christmas and winter-related articles recently (all of which will be featured here as soon as they’re published), so I’ve accumulated a long list of beautiful works just waiting to be written about. Here are a few of my favorites, and you can expect some more later on in the winter. Happy Holidays, everybody!

A Street Scene in Winter by Paul-Gustave Fischer
Paul-Gustave Fischer, “A Street Scene In Winter, Copenhagen” (1900). Private collection. Photo via (Public Domain)

Paul-Gustave Fischer, “A Street Scene in Winter, Copenhagen” (1900) – There’s so much to enjoy about this painting, but I couldn’t find enough information about the artist to write more than a paragraph about it. I did find out, however, that Fischer was known for painting cities and inclement weather (both seen here) and spent a few years studying in Paris in the 1890s. It makes sense, therefore, that this work reminds me of an Impressionist portrayal of Parisian life – in composition and tone if not in style. I’ve never been to Copenhagen or even seen a painting of it before, but this work shows it to have a compelling blend of old-world charm and cosmopolitanism.

Christmas Eve by William Hippon Gadsby
William Hippon Gadsby, “Christmas Eve”. Photo by Sofi via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0).

William Hippon Gadsby, “Christmas Eve” – The artist has done such an incredible job here of capturing the building anticipation on Christmas Eve. The middle girl’s face shows an expression I’m sure I wore during many Christmas Eve Masses when I was her age. The girl holding a doll on the left reminds me of my younger self as well. While I found next to no information about Gadsby except for the fact that he was British, I did come across several of his other works featuring a pair of similar-looking girls – perhaps his daughters or nieces. I didn’t think most of these other paintings were noteworthy, but this one is a real gem. I love the deep red curtain that pushes the girls to the foreground, with a sliver of stained glass window on the left to provide a hint at the otherwise unidentified setting.

Snowy Landscape with a Brook Walter Launt Palmer
Walter Launt Palmer, “Snowy Landscape with Brook” c. 1915. Private collection. Photo via (Public Domain).

Walter Launt Palmer, “Snowy Landscape with Brook” (1915) – This has to be one of the most beautiful snowy landscapes I’ve seen in my entire life. Palmer was an American Impressionist; all my readers know I’m a big fan of that movement, and I hope that works like this make them understand why. The blue and yellow tones in the snow, which we typically think of as being pure white, provides a vibrant sense of both purity and chill in this untouched landscape. I particularly love the dappled brushwork in the brook. I can almost feel the clear, frigid water when I look at it. If I hadn’t been specifically looking for a European artist for my snowy landscape article, I probably would have used this work.

Christmas Prayers by Henry Bacon
Henry Bacon, “Christmas Prayers”, 1872. Private collection. Photo via (Public Domain).

Henry Bacon, “Christmas Prayers” (1872) – This work is beautiful in its simple honesty. It’s realistic without being too realistic. The work as a whole has a subtle but compelling tone that isn’t obscured by an overly-strong focus on the details of clothing, hairstyles, or architecture. The child looking directly at the viewer really makes the piece in my opinion. Bacon was a Massachusetts native, and I can easily imagine this being the interior of a mid-sized New England church. Although it is definitely a painting, it reminds me of the color illustrations made for periodicals or subscriptions around this time.

Honorable Mentions (because they’re not in the public domain)

Jenny Nystrom, “Getting the Christmas Tree” – This charming little work represents what I’ve always thought Christmas in a small town must be like, particularly for an excitable little child. Nystrom was an influential Swedish illustrator who was particularly well-known for her Christmas images. I can see why. I particularly enjoy the fact that the work is clearly legibly without being dumbed down and sweet without being cloying or overly sentimental. It’s simple and a joy to look at.

Alan Maley, multiple worksMaley (1931-1995) was both a painter and an Academy Award-winning visual effects artist in the movie industry. All of his paintings had this sort of warm, elegant, and romantic aura to them. When I looked him up, I was really surprised to learn that the artist wasn’t even alive in the romantic era that he captures so beautifully. You can see more of his works here and learn more about him if you can read whatever language the page is written in.

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