Art State of Mind

Holiday Inspiration: How Do Paintings Spend Christmas?

Magda Michalska 24 December 2020 min Read

Ho, ho, ho, Christmas is here! Whether you’re religious or just enjoy a meet-up with friends and family, Christmas is an occasion to celebrate. If you’re curious what Christmas in paintings looks like, have a look. And how do you spend Christmas?

Going for a walk

Paul Gauguin, Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen), 1903, Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields, christmas in paintings
Paul Gauguin, Christmas Night (The Blessing of the Oxen), 1903, Indianapolis Museum of Art, IN, USA.

The canvas of a winter night in Brittany was found in Gauguin’s studio in the South Seas after his death. We can see a steeple and the snow-covered cottages of Pont-Aven, yet the women’s clothes suggest that they come from another village, Le Pouldu. Gauguin could have begun the work during his last Pont-Aven visit in 1894, but since the composition combines different sources of inspiration (the oxen are modeled on Egyptian tomb sculptures, while the figures in the shrine derive from the photographs of a frieze in Java), it is more likely that he painted it in Tahiti, where he must have missed Brittany.

In a church

Nicholas Roerich, Costume devotion of Fiery Furnace before Christmas Liturgy in Russian Orthodox Church, 1907, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, christmas in paintings
Nicholas Roerich, Costume devotion of Fiery Furnace before Christmas Liturgy in Russian Orthodox Church, 1907, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947) was a Russian painter and a spiritual writer. Interested in hypnosis, he got involved in the Theosophy movement. Many say that his paintings have hypnotic qualities. Can you sense them here?
Orthodox Christmas must definitely be hypnotic, just imagine the golden icons reflecting the candlelight!

At a table

Jacek Malczewski, Christmas Eve in Siberia, 1892, National Museum in Cracow, christmas in paintings
Jacek Malczewski, Christmas Eve in Siberia, 1892, National Museum in Krakow, Krakow, Poland.

When Jacek Malczewski, a Polish painter, stayed in Paris, he turned to patriotic and national themes in his paintings. He missed his home country so much, that he called it a disease which caused him to like ‘nothing except his motherland’. In this painting, he wanted to express the despair and loneliness experienced by the Polish expatriates sent to Siberia during the most family-centered holiday of the year.

Dreaming

Salvador Dali , Allegory of an American Christmas, 1934, Private Collection, christmas in paintings
Salvador Dali , Allegory of an American Christmas, 1934, private collection. Wikimedia Commons.

In 1934 Dali and Gala were on their first trip to the US, the country that had long intrigued Dali who loved the idea of a “new country” and the opportunities he saw there, which are symbolized by the egg, a symbol of the birth of something new, or of a change taking place. Here Dali really pays the tribute to the US, since the black hole in the egg forms the shape of North America, with South America painted in gold beneath it.

Taking time to do all the things you like

Edvard Munch, Christmas in the Brothel, 1905, Munch Museum, Oslo, christmas in paintings
Edvard Munch, Christmas in the Brothel, 1905, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway.

This ‘light yet melancholy’ Fauvist painting shows girls just after decorating a Christmas tree. Critics described it as ‘ironic, sentimentally unholy’ and consider it a commentary on upper-class Norwegian households and Munch’s own ‘pietistic home background’. Prostitution was one of Munch‘s favorite themes to the extent that one particular room in a German brothel inspired him to make an entire series of paintings, The Green Room.

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