With one week to go until Christmas Day, you can almost feel the nation collectively donning its finest fuzzy jumper, wrapping itself in tinsel, putting Slade on repeat, dashing out to the shops and eating more mince pies than is medically advisable.
In this spirit we’ve had a trawl through the Art UK box marked ‘Christmas’ to bring you some of the finest Christmas – and winter – art we could muster from the nation’s art collection. We’ve chosen a piece of art that exemplifies each seasonal category, plus some other worthy mentions. So put on your cosiest socks, grab the nearest glass of something mulled and enjoy our carefully curated gallery.
A snowy scene
There are any number of disarmingly bleak ‘snow’ works in the nation’s art collection: clearly there are lots of artists who see snow and, instead of rushing to get the sledge out, turn to their brushes feeling melancholy.
This Monet – one of many snow scenes painted by him during the exceptionally snowy winter of 1874–1875 – has a cool palette, and the snow on the ground is reflected by the whites and greys of the sky, but there’s still something about it that suggests a bit of seasonal cheer. Perhaps it’s the tinges of blue sky coming through at the top, the little blots of red on the trees at the left, or the people dotted around and the suggestions of lively town life despite the snow. According to the National Gallery, this piece ‘sacrifices details in favour of atmosphere’, which is maybe what allows us to project our own sense of a snowy scene onto it.
The lure of painting a landscape drenched in the white stuff clearly calls to a whole range of artists – the tag ‘snow’ on Art UK returns 920 artworks. Whether you want looming hills over fjords, a pair of snow leopards or a grumpy looking young boy in the snow, we have it all. Peter Doig’s Blotter, Caspar Friedrich’s Winter Landscape and Camille Pissarro’s The Louvre under Snow are all mesmerising and well worth taking your time over.
A Christmas tree
Cook has several Christmas-themed pieces on Art UK, and they’re all infused with similar warmth and cosiness. This painting is beautifully messy: the tree has that slight, Pisa-ish lean that all good trees do, decorated a little haphazardly but lovingly, crammed determinedly into a space that you don’t feel really has the room for it. It’s an unusual space and it works: you feel like you could wander in, stamp the snow from your boots and be offered a warm drink by Cook, toiling away painting more Christmas scenes in his studio (disclaimer: the studio may not actually be his).
This piece by H. L. Alpin conveys all of the warmth of a twinkling Christmas tree in an abstract fashion, and Charles Mahoney’s more muted and melancholy Christmas Tree Viewed through Red Curtains are both intriguing takes on a festive tree.
Family – and presents
It feels like this painting perfectly summarises that Boxing Day sense of limbo, especially for children, confused as to why there are no longer presents to unwrap. This is particularly clear with the girl lying on the floor, clutching half-heartedly at a paper windmill and a horn, surrounded by the wonderful clutter of toys filling a small space. There are no parents to be seen – presumably they’re quietly polishing off the brandy – and while the tree and decorations are still gaudy, you know that their real purpose is done with, as the inevitable slow slide into January begins.
Another warm take on familial chaos is offered by Harry Wilson in The Christmas Tree as dogs, babies and a father attempting to shave all jostle for space at a cramped kitchen table.
Admittedly, this was a relatively easy choice, given this piece is the only artwork that comes up on Art UK when you search ‘carol singers’. Nevertheless, this is a touching portrait of what looks like a family singing their hearts out – to the extent that they’ve completely exhausted one girl who clings sleepily to her father rather than carry on with their rendition. While it seems quite straightforward, the family’s isolation in the picture brings up questions: who are they singing to? Is there music? Why just this family? The washed out browns of the piece mean that it’s also not the most aesthetically Christmassy of portraits, and the family look serious: the father and the boy on the right, in particular, singing as though they’re about to be given marks out of 10.
I’m not completely convinced that this comes under the category of ‘carol singing’ but felt it just had to be included somewhere: A Little Bit Tipsy, Christmas Eve, 1996, (The Old Hoss) by William A. G. Ward. This piece suggests that there is some sort of fantastic story behind it: the kind that begins with ‘…so we started the evening at the Old George’ and ends with a sort of demonical pantomime horse surrounded by men dressed in red.
This wonderful piece by Ingrid Kerma is one of only a handful of reindeer pieces on Art UK, but it’s so good it makes you wonder if there shouldn’t be more reindeer-themed art. Are these brightly coloured, abstract reindeer escaping from a Santa who works them too hard at Christmas time? Are they slacking on the job, sneaking off for a break between shifts of pulling the sleigh around? The one looking over its shoulder looks particularly shifty. Is the green one in the middle even a reindeer, or is it some sort of bison in disguise?
Santa’s sleigh as envisaged in a mining town by Paul Schofield has a particularly perky-looking reindeer, and Christmas at Corfe Castle sees a Dumbledore-esque Santa, with reindeer, perched a bit precariously on a roof.
A person named Christmas
Reverend Christmas Evans was a seven foot tall, one-eyed, Welsh evangelical preacher, and there are in fact several portraits of him on Art UK: including this one, which makes it look like he’s posing for an album cover with his band. Evans was born on Christmas Day (to parents presumably lacking in imagination on the naming front) and is described as a ‘remarkably powerful preacher’. If thinking that Reverend Christmas Evans embodying the spirit of Christmas is wrong, then I don’t want to be right.
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Molly Tresadern, Art UK Content Creator and Marketer