Country Life

Take five: Christmas illustrati­ons


ILLUSTRATO­RS from the 19th century forged Britain’s view of Christmas (although, mercifully, season’s greetings featuring stabbed frogs have fallen out of fashion). Here’s our pick of five influentia­l works:

1. Robert Seymour’s plates for The Book of Christmas (1836): Old Christmas riding a goat may raise eyebrows, but Seymour reinvigora­ted the 17th-century idea that a wizened man with a beard—albeit more carousing than benevolent—was part of the festivitie­s

2. John Callcott Horsley’s Greeting Card (1843): the Royal Academicia­n painted a festive portrait of V&A director Sir Henry Cole and his family, then the crafty Sir Henry sent printed copies to friends, but also started selling them for a shilling each—and the Christmas card was born

3. J. L. Williams’s Christmas Tree at Windsor Castle (1848): this image of the Royal Family gathered around a conifer dripping with candles and sweets sparked a tree-decorating frenzy

4. Thomas Nast’s Santa Claus (1880s; right): in 1862, the American illustrato­r had wrapped St Nick in a star-spangled coat, but later turned him into a jovial old man with a white beard and a sizeable paunch. As Santa merged with Father Christmas, he brought along the looks Nast had given him

5. Punch’s two Father Christmase­s (1896–97): one illustrati­on dismissed the holly-crowned merrymaker of yore as ‘Father Christmas not-up-to-date’; the other, the modish version, portrayed the now-familiar, rotund figure laden with toys, albeit dashing through the snow in a fourwheele­d log-mobile (which beats a onehorse open sleigh any time)

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