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Classic Art: (Nearly) Forgotten Christmas Art

Beautiful art deserves to be remembered and enjoyed. We’ve found Christmas illustrations from Country Gentleman and Ladies’ Home Journal magazines, which were sister publications of the Post for many years.

Romantic Skate

Romantic Skate Manning de V. Lee  December 1, 1937


Romantic Skate
Manning de Villeneuve Lee
December 1, 1937

While searching the archives for holiday covers, we’ve come across many joyful Santas, bustling shoppers, and even post-holiday scenes. So, it’s not often that we find a romantic Christmas cover in the bunch, but this 1937 illustration by Manning de Villeneuve Lee (1894-1980) fills the bill admirably.

At the time this sentimental cover was created, the artist and his wife (Eunice Celeste Sandoval) had been married for 25 years. Together they created children’s books; Manning Lee did the illustration and his wife wrote them (under the pen name Tina Lee). They also created artwork for Jack and Jill, a children’s magazine from the same publisher as The Saturday Evening Post and Country Gentleman magazines.


Main Street at Christmas


Main Street at Christmas  Peter Helck  December 1, 1944


Main Street at Christmas
Peter Helck
December 1, 1944

From the 1920s through the 1940s, Helck was a successful magazine illustrator and advertising artist, writes Timothy Helck, a grandson of the artist, who maintains a website dedicated to his grandfather. The website shows examples of Peter Helck’s work, including complex industrial scenes for National Steel and beautifully executed automotive paintings done for Esquire magazine in 1944.

Helck created two other covers for Country Gentleman; both, appropriately designed for the rural American magazine, were farm scenes. He did 20 illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post, and many of these were for fictional stories on auto racing. Helck, who grew up in the late 1890s and had followed auto racing since its infancy, authored and co-wrote several books and numerous articles on the subject. Some are still available today, including 1961’s The Checkered Flag and Great Auto Races and Grand Prizes from 1976. The Grand Prix History website gives an interesting overview of Helck’s lifelong involvement with the sport.


Drum for Tommy

Drum for Tommy  Norman Rockwell  December 17, 1921


Drum for Tommy
Norman Rockwell
December 17, 1921

Norman Rockwell did 35 Country Gentleman covers between 1917 and 1922. One reason he stopped in 1922 was the high demand for his work, a heady situation for an artist only in his mid-20s. In addition to The Saturday Evening Post covers (between 6 and 18 per year during the 1920s) and inside illustrations for Ladies’ Home Journal, Rockwell had a growing stable of advertising clients, including Interwoven Socks, Jell-O, and Edison Mazda Lamps, among several others. In the 1920s, he also began illustrating calendars for Boy Scouts of America, the beginning of a 50-year relationship with that organization.

Although his Santa covers for The Saturday Evening Post (which started the year after this 1921 cover) became classics, this jolly old elf is less well known. It is the only Country Gentleman Rockwell Santa.


Baby’s First Christmas


Baby’s First Christmas Haddon Sundblom December 1, 1929


Baby’s First Christmas
Haddon Sundblom
December 1, 1929

Artist Haddon Sundblom (1899-1976), who was born in Michigan to a Swedish family, was best known for the classic Santa Claus he painted for Coca-Cola ads from the 1930s through the 1960s, he was also well recognized for pin-up art in calendars. In fact, his last assignment was a Playboy cover in 1972.

Because of the popularity of his later work, it is easy to forget Sundblom did anything in his pre-Coca-Cola days. But his earlier work, like this 1929 Country Gentleman cover, “Baby’s First Christmas,” should be remembered for its impressionistic style. His technique was inspired by, among others, artists Howard Pyle and John Singer Sargent, and is described on Leif Peng’s blog as “first stroke,” using the fewest strokes possible to depict a subject. Peng shows several beautiful examples of Sundblom’s paintings using this technique.


Simeon and the Christ Child


Simeon and the Christ Child  Ladies Home Journal, December 1921


Simeon and the Christ Child
Marion Boyd Allen
December 1921

In the Gospel of Luke, God promised Simeon, a righteous and devout man, that before his death, he would see the Christ child. Simeon took the child into his arms and blessed him. From Rembrandt to children’s illustrators, the biblical scene of Simeon and the Christ child has had many manifestations. We recently discovered this image in our archives from the December 1921 Ladies’ Home Journal.

This beautiful rendition of Simeon is by Marion Boyd Allen (1862-1941). Also well established as a portrait painter, Allen preferred the vertical format to horizontal, even for nature scenes. The website McDougall Fine Arts shares an intriguing story about Allen’s landscape painting.


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