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Christmas Season - And the paintings that celebrate it

As you may have noticed by now, I like to focus on women who paint. The women who were neglected for so long and were wiped out of art history, even when they were extremely popular and successful during their times, art historians still found a way of forgetting about them while putting the same male painters on a pedestal. so, believe or not, I attempted to... yes, you got it! Women artists painting nativity scenes! I love diving into history and seeing how many women did it and were recognised. In some aspects, the painting might not be viewed as a traditional nativity scene, such as Berthe Morisot's famous Le Berceau (The Cradle), but bear with me.


"Le Berceau" "The Cradle" by Berthe Morisot (1874)
"Le Berceau" by Berthe Morisot (1874)

As an aside, if you want to see what paintings are usually associated with Christmas, The Guardian has a very very traditional list. (here you go)


I first found another writer who, back in 2011, tried to find a list similar to the one I was compiling. She discovered that most Nativity scenes painted before the 20th century had either been destroyed, or vanished, or were not on the internet. I used her article as a starting point. I also asked an extremely resourceful friend for help and she is basically a fountain of knowledge who left me flabbergasted... she quite literally, from the top of her head, gave me a list of female French artists who could have potentially painted nativity scenes, plus reference pictures. Now it rests upon my shoulders to see how much of that information was salvageable. (Yes, I am looking forward to her reading this and shaking her head, or just laughing telling me she warned me).


Well, I have now found out that unfortunately, none of the women painted nativity scenes; however, it led me to wikiart where I was able to put in key words such as "Nativity", "Jesus Birth" and "Christmas" and out of almost 300 paintings, I found 7 women who painted Christmas related art. Every time I came across one, I punched the air in triumph considering I thought I would find 0 (zero).


In Medieval times, there was Claricia, a German Nun who painted miniatures in the Romanesque Style. Not much is known about her, but she illuminated a Nativity scene, and that is enough for me to include her below. Another artist worth mentioning is Lucrina Fetti, and although her Nativity scene was destroyed during the Napoleonic wars, I thought I would still include her painting Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation (1590) as it is, to some extent, relevant as Annunciation is when the Archangel Gabriel told The Blessed Virgin Mary that she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, the Jewish Messiah and Son of God.

"Nativity" by Claricia (c.1200)
"Nativity" by Claricia (c.1200)
"Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation" by Lucrina Fetti (c.1590)
"Archangel Gabriel of the Annunciation" by Lucrina Fetti (c.1590)

I have written about Josefa de Óbidos before in the article about Church commissions, where I describe more of her life. In 1669, she painted the Nativity of Jesus which now resides in The National Museum of Ancient Art, in Lisbon.

Eleanor Vera Boyle was a Scottish illustrator and writer who published, over a span of 50 years, twenty-one books. Christmas Angel appeared in the Fairy Tails by Hans Christian Anderson in 1872, but it is not known when the work was originally created.


"Nativity of Jesus" by Josefa de Óbidos, (1669)
"Nativity of Jesus" by Josefa de Óbidos, (1669)
"Christmas Angel" by Eleanor Vere Boyle (c. 1872))
"Christmas Angel" by Eleanor Vere Boyle (c. 1872)

Sarah Purser is better known for her work on stained glass, but she made most of her living from making portraiture. One of her famous quotes regarding the commissions she got was that:

I went through the British aristocracy like the measles.

I had never heard of her until I started searching tor these Christmas images, but Purser had an impressive career being the first female Associate Member in 1923 and the first female Member in 1924 of the Royal Hibernian Academy, after being made an honorary member in 1890. Between 1914 and 1943, she became the second woman to sit on the Board of Governors and Guardians of National Gallery of Ireland. In 1903, Sarah Purser established the An Túr Gloine (The Glass Tower), a cooperative studio for stained glass and opus sectile artists. Between 1906 and 1908, she designed the Nativity in Nine Scenes for St Brendan's Cathedral in Loughrea. The stained glass was then painted in 1912 by Alfred Ernest Child.


I recently dedicated an entire entry on Virginia Woolf, incomplete as it was, I failed to mention her sister Vanessa Bell, who was an artist. She started under the post-impressionist influence and in 1914, moved to abstraction. Her piece Christmas Decorations was painted around 1915 and here you can observe one of her tendencies to rendering figures with blurred out features.


"Nativity in Nine Scenes" designed by Sarah Purser (1908)
"Nativity in Nine Scenes" designed by Sarah Purser (1908)
"Christmas Decorations" by Vanessa Bell (c.1915)
"Christmas Decorations" by Vanessa Bell (c.1915)










Zinaida Serebriakova was born in 1884, when the Ukraine was still part of the Russian empire, to one of the most artistic families at the time, the Benois family. She faced many hardships and led an incredible and interesting life. She moved to Paris in 1924 and although she sent a lot of work back to Russia, the bulk of her artwork still remains in Paris. Katya in Blue Dress by Christmas Tree was painted in 1922 during the October Revolution of 1917. At the time she was sharing a Petrograd flat with her four children, her mother, and artists from the Moscow Art Theatre.


Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1872-1945) was an English artist know for her paintings, book illustrations, and stained glass. In 1919, Hodder and Stoughton published her book entitled Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale's Golden Book of Famous Women, which can be viewed in its entirety, here! Unfortunately,I couldn't find out when she painted The Nativity, pictured below.


"Katya in Blue Dress by Christmas Tree" by Zinaida Serebriakova (1922)
"Katya in Blue Dress by Christmas Tree" by Zinaida Serebriakova (1922)
"The Nativity" by Eleanor Fortescue-Bricksdale (unknown)
"The Nativity" by Eleanor Fortescue-Bricksdale (unknown)

Georgia O'Keefe wasn't religious, but she was spiritual. She enjoyed celebrating the different seasonal events and for Christmas 1963, she reproduced her Starlight Night 1917 painting onto cards and sent them to friends.

Paola Grossi Gondi is a contemporary artist living in Italy and she created the beautiful Natività pictured below.


"Starlight Night" by Georgia O'Keefe (1917)
"Starlight Night" by Georgia O'Keefe (1917)
"Natività" by Paola Grossi Gondi (2020)
"Natività" by Paola Grossi Gondi (2020)


SPECIAL MENTION!


Do you recall a friend helped me with a list of names and images? She also told me a beautiful heartwarming story about the tapestry canvas below. Madeleine Laboret was her grandmother and became enamored with the below tapestry. It was a shop bought kit, but having poor eyesight, it took her a long time to make it, but it was certainly a labour of love as when she finished it, she gifted it to her daughter and baby granddaughter for protection. According to her granddaughter, when completed, the baby resembled her.

Christmas is a time for family and love, sharing and giving, although I believe it should be like that all year round. Not the capitalistic enterprise it has now become. Tapestries and artwork, such as the one below, remind us of how precious and short our loves are, and that we should make the most out of these moments. It feels that 2020 has hopefully shown us this the hard way, separating us from loved ones near and far. Social media is great at uniting, but it has also shown how it isn't enough, that we need human contact and that unfortunately, it isn't a teleportation device where you can reach across the screen and hug your loved ones, or comfort them when they hurt. Words can reach so far, but a long, heartfelt, silent hug can reach beyond the soul and soothe one's spirit.


A happy holiday to all and a Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it.


"La Sainte Vierge et Son Petite Enfant" by Madeleine Laboret (c.1981)