Art State of Mind

Twelve Days of Christmas in Art

Joanna Kaszubowska 24 December 2021 min Read

Twelve Days of Christmas is probably one of the best known Christmas carols in English speaking countries. It lists the gifts received from ‘my true love’ between the Christmas Day and the Twelfth Night. Here you can see all the gifts, as you sing along. We wish you a wonderful, warm and relaxing holiday with your loved ones!

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me

A partridge in a pear tree

Twelve days of Christmas Jan Baptist Weenix, Dead Partridge Hanging from a Nail, 1650-1652, Mauritshuis - Twelve days of Christmas
Jan Baptist Weenix, Dead Partridge Hanging from a Nail, 1650-1652, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

As you’ll see in a second the first few days are pretty heavy on the poultry, only on the fifth day we get on with some interesting gifts. Maybe it has something to do with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, eat first, jewelry and fun later.

On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Two turtle doves

Twelve days of Christmas Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1949, Tate Gallery, © Succession Picasso - DACS 2018 - Twelve Days of Christmas
Pablo Picasso, Dove, 1949, Tate, London, UK. © Succession Picasso – DACS 2018.

On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Three French hens

Twelve days of Christmas Gustav Klimt, After the Rain (Garden with Chickens in St. Agatha), 1899 - 12 Days of Christmas
Gustav Klimt, After the Rain (Garden with Chickens in St. Agatha), 1899. Gustav-Klimt.com.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Four calling birds

Twelve days of Christmas carel fabritius the goldfinch
Carel Fabritius, Goldfinch, 1654, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Five gold rings

Twelve days of Christmas elizabeth taylor ring
Herb Ritts, Elizabeth Taylor, Malibu, 1991. © Herb Ritts Foundation.

If five gold rings are good, a good-sized diamond ring is even better and no one took this closer to heart than Elizabeth Taylor (apart maybe from Marylin Monroe, but while Monroe sang about it, Taylor made it happen).

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Six geese a-laying

Twelve days of Christmas james guthrie to pastures new
James Guthrie, To Pastures New, 1883, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums, Aberdeen, UK.

And we’re back to poultry… This of course are not the most ambitious lyrics, so please be patient about the birds.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Seven swans a-swimming

Twelve days of Christmas jan asselijn, the threatened swan
Jan Asselijn, The Threatened Swan, 1650, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Eight maids a-milking

Twelve days of Christmas vermeer milkmaid
Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, ca. 1660, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

This is surely the most famous Milkmaid in the world. And it’s no wonder, with the wonderful and saturated colors and dreamy light this painting is simply a pleasure to look at.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Nine ladies dancing

Twelve days of Christmas matisse dance
Henri Matisse, Dance, 1910, State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.

This painting exudes pure joy of movement, something most of us won’t feel often during the holiday season, not with all the food. But remember January, with all the new year’s resolutions of healthy living is just around the corner – we will get moving again, very, very soon.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Ten lords a-leaping

Philippe Halsman, J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1958. Magnum Photos.

And once we do start moving, nothing will stop us from leaping. Philippe Halsman said:

When you ask a person to jump, his attention is mostly directed toward the act of jumping and the mask falls so that the real person appears.

True to this statement he developed a philosophy of jump photography – jumpology.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Eleven pipers piping

Hendrick ter Brugghen, Bagpipe Player, 1624, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, USA.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me

Twelve drummers drumming

Twelve days of Christmas
Gjon Mili, Gene Krupa, 1941. Pinterest.

Gene Krupa was American jazz drummer, he is considered “the founding father of the modern drumset” by Modern Drummer Magazine. He was also a great showman, so the photos by Mili really show both aspects: a brilliant drummer, but also an enthusiastic showman. You can almost hear him drumming.

Here is a hilarious video of the Twelve Days of Christmas that will help you remember all the gifts:

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