Art UK has updated its cookies policy. By using this website you are agreeing to the use of cookies. To find out more read our updated Use of Cookies policy and our updated Privacy policy.

Close

To get into the holiday spirit we have put together a Christmas-themed art history, to that well-known carol you will undoubtedly be required to sing in between uncomfortable catch-ups with distant relatives.

We’ve had a browse through the Art UK collection, to present to you some of the finest selection of paintings illustrating the song, from fifteenth-century gold rings to nineteenth-century leaping lords.

On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... A partridge in a pear tree

A partridge and no pears, unfortunately, but hopefully some grapes and a pomegranate will do?

Fruit, Flowers and Game

Fruit, Flowers and Game about 1820

Georgius Jacobus Johannes van Os (1782–1861)

The National Gallery, London

Dutch still lifes often included flowers, dead animals or exotic fruits, allowing artists to paint intricate detail and the reflection of light.

On the second day of Christmas, my true love sent to me... Two turtle doves

Two standard doves defying the laws of gravity.

Portrait of a Baby Girl as Venus, in a Chariot Drawn by Doves

Portrait of a Baby Girl as Venus, in a Chariot Drawn by Doves

Nicolaes Maes (1634–1693)

National Trust, Wimpole Hall

Art historians previously believed the sitter of this painting could be the Princess of Orange, before realising the assumption was slightly far-fetched.

On the third day of Christmas... well, you get the idea... Three French hens

... Or several cockerels and hens – two of which appear to be French.  

Cockerel and Three Hens

Cockerel and Three Hens

Pieter Casteels (1684–1749) (style of)

National Trust, Tredegar House

Flemish painter Pieter Casteels seems to have been fond of poultry, especially hens, ducks and peacocks.

Four colly birds

There are different versions of the song for the fourth day of Christmas including calling birds, mockingbirds and canaries. Here's a little assortment.

Canary, Green Parrot and Other Birds in a Landscape

Canary, Green Parrot and Other Birds in a Landscape

Tobias Stranover (1684–after 1731)

Government Art Collection

Tobias Stranover was born and raised in Transylvania and often depicted bird skirmishes.

Five gold rings

One gold riiiiiiiing

A Young Man holding a Ring

A Young Man holding a Ring perhaps about 1450

Jan van Eyck (c.1380/1390–1441) (follower of)

The National Gallery, London

According to The National Gallery, the sitter was either a goldsmith or soon-to-be married. He looks thrilled.

Six geese a-laying

With an extra goose a-laying.

The Goose Girl

The Goose Girl 1879

Edward Hargitt (1835–1895)

Museums Sheffield

The Scottish landscape painter Edward Hargitt became a bird expert later in life, completing around 1,300 drawings of woodpeckers.

Seven swans a-swimming

... Or two swans neck wrestling.

Separating Fighting Swans

Separating Fighting Swans c.1932/1933

Stanley Spencer (1891–1959)

Leeds Museums and Galleries

Spencer often depicted the countryside around the River Thames, which runs through the rural village Cookham, Berkshire – the artist’s hometown.

Eight maids a-milking

Let’s switch the gender roles and have one man milking. 

The Glenfield Farmer

The Glenfield Farmer 1946

Kenneth James Wynn (1922–2009)

Leicestershire County Council Museums Service

Nine ladies dancing

... Or a dozen woodland nymphs dancing.

The Dance of Nymphs

The Dance of Nymphs 1855

William Gale (1823–1909)

Glasgow Museums

William Gale was a British painter and lesser-known artist of the Pre-Raphaelite school.

Ten lords a-leaping

One Lord doing an Irish jig.

via GIPHY

Eleven pipers piping

... Or even better, hundreds of Scottish bagpipers. Dinna Ye Hear the Pipes? 

'Dinna Ye Hear the Pipes?'

'Dinna Ye Hear the Pipes?' c.1910

Godfrey Pitney Merry (1861–1950)

Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

Twelve drummers drumming

Instead, we have one happy baby.

via GIPHY

That’s the end of our lyrical art history. We hope we gifted you with the festive spirit.

Lydia Figes, Content Creator at Art UK

.