Robert Walter Weir - St. Nicholas (ca. 1837)
Henry Mosler - Christmas Morning (1916)
Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin - Preparation for Christmas (1896)
In observance of the Christmas, today I would like to share not two but three works which capture the spirit of the holiday. Here I present 'St. Nicholas' by American painter Robert Walter Weir, 'Christmas Morning' by fellow American painter Henry Mosler, and 'Preparation for Christmas' by Russian painter Sergey Vasilievich Dosekin.
The most curious of these three is definitely 'St. Nicholas,' which depicts the celebrated childrens' Christmas figure as an impish character looking back at the viewer with a sinister grin as goes to depart up the chimney. Rather than the bearer of toys, one might mistake him for having looted this cozy home. Weir's portrayal of Saint Claus urges us to question the darker, subversive aspects of this holiday tradition. On an added note, the entire work recalls hallmarks of traditional Dutch painting, including the orange and pipe detail on the floor, with operates as a handsome, standalone still life.
Writer Owen Edwards has provided some insightful information this work. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-mischievous-st-nick-from-the-american-art-museum-60840/
Our second painting, Mosler's 'Christmas Morning,' has a much warmer emotion, inviting us to share the childrens' view of the family Christmas tree, complete with presents underneath, as they open their bedroom door to reveal the scene. This is the sort of image I would not be surprised to see featured on a Christmas card, however 'Morning' achieves something greater than the empty sentiment one might associate with Hallmark. I love Mosler's use of light, as the candles on the tree create a inviting glow for these two little ones, and his rendering of shadows travelling along the bedroom floor, as well as the light settling on the bedsheets, as a very natural quality which for me contributes an emotional resonance to this work.
Of these three paintings, Dosekin's 'Preparation' feels the most authentic, a slice of 19th century Russian home life taken from observation. Unlike the two other works, there's nothing particularly fanciful about Dosekin's scene, and his technique owes much to the Realist style, which is an interesting contrast to the cheerful depictions of Christmas holiday I'm used to seeing. I admire the artist's casual arrangement of the children throughout the table, with one child's face obscured behind the young girl in front of him, as if the little ones are much too busy to pose for a formal picture. None of the children look particularly overjoyed with thier task of sorting and assembling their ornaments and other decorations, seen laid out of the table before them, but they'll soon enough enjoy the fruits of their labors, as their otherwise drab interior will be colorfully adorned for the holiday. For once it's refreshing to see the hard work behind the streamers and tinsel. And then, of course, it will be time to take down and pack away the decorations, but that's another painting.