Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)

Deer Santy Claus

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
Deer Santy Claus
signed 'Norman/Rockwell' (lower right) and inscribed with title (left center)
oil on canvas laid down on board
22¼ x 18½ in. (56.5 x 47 cm.)
Painted circa 1921.
The artist.
Private collection, California, gift from the above.
Private collection, California, acquired from the above.
By descent to the present owners.
Western Sentinel, vol. 23, no. 7, December 21, 1921, cover illustration.
The Hanska Herald, December 16, 1921, cover illustration.
"Rockwell Santa Art Located," Kentucky New Era, Hopkinsville, Kentucky, November 25, 1986, p. 6.

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Lot Essay

Charles Dickens wrote of Christmas, "Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!" (The Pickwick Papers, 1836) Norman Rockwell's art is much the same, capturing nostalgic moments that strike pleasant remembrances and recall a bygone era in America's history. Deer Santy Claus, painted in 1921 for distribution by the Western Newspaper Union Syndicate, is one of Rockwell's beloved depictions of Santa Claus, a subject that fascinated him throughout his career.

As America's preeminent illustrator, Norman Rockwell was as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created. Over the course of seven decades the artist produced more than 800 magazine covers and advertisements for over 150 companies. These works depicted a sweeping range of topics during a century of extensive technological and social change, making Rockwell one of the most successful mass communicators of the century and allowing him to forge a sense of national identity through his art. And yet, despite the wide-range of Rockwell's pictorial triumphs, ever since his first paying commission--received from Mrs. Arnold Constable in 1911 to produce Christmas cards--Rockwell has been inextricably linked to Christmas in America. He produced numerous covers, illustrations and advertisements for the holiday, painted Christmas cards for Hallmark in 1948 and 1979 and designed holiday calendars for Brown and Bigelow. "So identified with this one season did Rockwell become that a number of his canvases which contain no explicit references whatever to Christmas--various generic winter scenes, for example, and even some scenes that lack any seasonal signature--are nevertheless thought of by enough people as being 'typical' Rockwell Christmas paintings so that they continue to be reproduced at Yuletide year after year." (J. Kirk, Christmas with Norman Rockwell, North Dighton, Massachusetts, 1990, p. 8)

Deer Santy Claus is a charming distillation of familiar Christmas lore, depicting a young, angelic girl, peacefully sleeping in her bed. A note, titled 'Deer Santy Claus' dangles from her bed post filled with her Christmas wishes. A jolly and warm-hearted Santa stands pensively over her bed, as if pondering if she has been naughty or nice. Santa's growing smile and the way Rockwell has framed her sweet face with the pure white of her sheets and pillow suggest that her wish list will be fulfilled. The only illumination of this nocturnal scene appears to come from a glowing halo above Santa's head and the faint glimmer of twinkling stars out the window. The painting's theme is further underscored by Rockwell's use of color, primarily red and green. Green curtains frame the window and encircle Santa's head in the form of mistletoe. The composition is enlivened by the bright red of Santa's coat, echoed in the cheerful patchwork of the young girl's quilt. This endearing painting captures the spirit of Christmas and the allure of Santa in the American psyche.

Rockwell refused to entirely cede to the current commercialism of the holiday and many of his holiday illustrations recall an earlier era. "Rockwell's Santa Clauses seem tinged with nostalgia or regret for vanished Christmases once upon a time." (Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, p. 160) This ability to bow to contemporary demands, while speaking to America's past, accounts for the continuing appeal of works such as Deer Santy Claus and allows them to transcend the boundaries of mere illustration art. The present work both chronicles a period in America's social history and acts as a portal to an earlier time in the nation's remembrance.

Deer Santy Claus was reproduced in 1986 by the Rockwell Society of America as a commemorative Christmas plate but the painting's location had been unknown until this past spring.

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