Art State of Mind

Twelve Days of Christmas in Art

Joanna Kaszubowska 27 December 2018 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

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

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, jewellery and fun later.

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

Two turtle doves

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

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

Three French hens

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

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

Four calling birds

Carel Fabritius, Goldfinch, 1654, Mauritshuis

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

Five gold rings

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 Marylin sang about it, Taylor made it happen).

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

Six geese a-laying

James Guthrie, To Pastures New, 1883, Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums

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

Jan Asselijn, The Threatened Swan, 1650, Rijksmuseum

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

Eight maids a-milking

Johannes Vermeer, The Milkmaid, ca. 1660, Rijksmuseum

This is surely the most famous Milkmaid in the world. And it’s no wonder, with the wonderful and saturated colours 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

Henri Matisse, Dance, 1910, State Hermitage Museum

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

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 D.C.

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

Twelve drummers drumming

Gjon Mili, Gene Krupa, 1941

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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