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Art & Design

William Holbrook Beard
American, 1824-1900
Santa Claus, ca. 1862
Oil on canvas
61.3 x 91.8 cm (24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches)
Jesse Metcalf Fund 42.265

William Holbrook Beard

Santa Claus

William Holbrook Beard
American, 1824-1900
Santa Claus, ca. 1862
Oil on canvas
61.3 x 91.8 cm (24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches)
Jesse Metcalf Fund 42.265

For nearly two centuries American artists have derived their descriptions of Santa Claus from Clement Clarke Moore’s 1823 poem “A Visit from Saint Nicholas.” In Moore’s verse, the sober Dutch bishop became “chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,” delivering toys by means of “a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.” William Holbrook Beard depicted Santa Claus in an urban landscape, riding above rooftops in a sky clouded by coal smoke. He pilots a delicate swan boat drawn by reindeer whose harnesses are deco-rated with silver bells. The choking pollution of 19th-century American cities seems only to heighten the theatrical quality of this remarkable illustration, adding a veil of darkness to the mystery of Christmas Eve


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