Given the time of the year, I thought this week that I would share with you three very different, but all very evocative, images of Christmas. I hope you enjoy them.
Rue sous la neige, Argenteuil is better known as Snow at Argenteuil in English, and is a landscape painting from the Impressionist artist Claude Monet. It is the largest of 18 pieces Monet painted of his home commune while it was under a blanket of snow during the winter of 1874-1875. Most of Monet’s Snow at Argenteuil pictures were painted from locations close to the house into which Monet and his family had just moved.
In 1879 the painting was acquired from Monet by Théodore Duret. The importance of the work is best summed up by Duret’s recollection of a conversation he had with the artist Édouard Manet. Duret said: “One winter he [Manet] wanted to paint a snow scene. I had in my possession just such a piece from Monet. After seeing it, he said ‘It is perfect! I would not know how to do better’.” Manet never painted a snow scene after that.
Snow at Argenteuil was bequeathed to the National Gallery, London in 2006 and remains there.
Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish Baroque artist, was captivated by The Adoration of the Magi, so much so that he painted it over and over again. Examples can be seen throughout Europe, the closest being in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge.
A preparatory oil sketch is also among the many treasures in the Wallace Collection in London, a must-visit destination. The Cambridge piece was painted in 1633-34 as an altarpiece for the chapel at the Convent of the White Nuns in Louvain, then in the Spanish Netherlands and now Belgium.
The painting was sold after the 1780 suppression of convents and came into the collection of William Petty, 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, in 1788. After his death it sold to Robert Grosvenor and passed down through the Grosvenor family. It was finally sold from the estate of Hugh Grosvenor in 1959 and bought for a world-record price of £250,000 by the property millionaire Alfred Ernest Allnatt. Two years later he offered it to King’s College, Cambridge. In June 1974 the painting was vandalised, with two-foot-high letters “IRA” scratched on it. While the scratches damaged the painting’s surface, they did not penetrate to the pigment; the work was eventually restored.
An American artist of Finnish and Swedish descent, Haddon Hubbard “Sunny” Sundblom is best known for the images of Santa Claus he created for the Coca-Cola Company, using himself as the model for Father Christmas.
Best remembered for his advertising work, Sundblom is often credited with having created the modern image of Santa Claus. It is said that he turned to Clement Clarke Moore’s 1822 poem A Visit From St Nicholas (commonly called Twas the Night Before Christmas) for inspiration. While Sundblom gets pigeonholed as the painter of Coca-Cola’s Santa Clauses, his work is celebrated and he ranks with such as Norman Rockwell as an artist who depicted the American dream in pictures.