Over the decades, The Saturday Evening Post has featured iconic images of Santa Claus on their December covers. Here are a few of our favorites by famed illustrators Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leyendecker.
Artist Alexander Anderson created the first known American image of Santa for the New York Historical Society’s St. Nicholas anniversary dinner in 1804. Sixty years later, American cartoonist Thomas Nast created the first published newspaper rendition of the rounded fellow with a jolly belly. He called him Santa Claus and endowed him with a gentle and compassionate spirit — and a giant sack of toys.
At the outset of the 20th century, the American public wholeheartedly embraced this persona for Santa — a sensibility that did not go unnoticed by the editor of The Saturday Evening Post, George Horace Lorimer. Over the decades of his reign at the Post, he frequently turned to his favorite artists to illustrate Santa on the covers of the magazine.
In January of 1922, editor Lorimer, feeling the weight of the season, commissioned Rockwell to paint a worn-out Santa for the coming December cover. The elves were Rockwell’s first attempt at cartoonish figures for a Post cover. If you look closely, you’ll see they are miniatures of his Santa of his Santa model, John Malone. It was no trick to capture Malone in this pose, as he frequently dozed off in Rockwell’s studio.
No matter how heavy the pack or how pressed for time, good St. Nick will always pause for a hug. And what a heavy load it is! You can almost feel the enormous strain weighing down on Santa’s collapsing boots.
Not everyone in this household welcomes Santa’s Christmas Eve visit. Can this befuddled Santa coax Fido into returning his coattail? Insiders understood this scene as a veiled reference to Leyendecker’s disciple Rockwell, whom art critics frequently described as riding his mentor’s coattails.
Lorimer had a rule that cover paintings should convey the illustrator’s intended message in no more than three seconds. Certainly that’s true in this timeless painting conveying the message, as Rockwell once said, that “…children want to believe in Santa Claus just a fervently as we adults want to believe in peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”
Sargent had nearly 40 Post covers under his belt before he painted this heartwarming Christmas cover of a little boy (Sargent’s neighbor Richie McCullough) who is eager to take advantage of an opportunity to do a good deed — especially with Christmas only a few days away.
Christmas spirit triumphs in the darkest hour. In August of 1942, when Rockwell finished and sent this over to the Post, the war with Japan and Germany was going badly for the U.S. Millions viewed this cover as a much-needed positive message to Americans and the troops.
These illustrations and many others are featured in the Post’s Special Collector’s Edition, Norman Rockwell: Christmas in America. This edition can be ordered here.