Based on a poignant poem by the same title by Robert P. Tristram Coffin, N.C. Wyeth's On Christmas Night by Bethlehem Town, is a stirring image that is typical of N.C. Wyeth's finest work.
The painting was published twice during the artist's lifetime. It accompanied Coffin's poem in The Ladies Home Journal in December 1924, and was featured on the cover of Sacred Art Calendar of 1932. The author of the poem, Robert P. Tristam Coffin, was a distinguished poet who won a Pulitzer Prize for a work entitled Strange Holiness in 1936.
A classic illustration by Wyeth, the artist displayed the greatest skill in each works. Indeed, "his color is rich, warm, and freshly harmonious. He has an extraordinary skill at capturing the quality of light itself, not merely its symbolic representation in the arrangement of planes and their shadows, and he exercised it to the fullest, with an almost offhand delight in its mastery. His compositions are massive, with the play of great bodies, or loom of rock, of rise of tree, or the bulk of something fashioned by builders. There is substance to his forms and reality to his objects. And in the moods in which these components are brought together is an unstated spiritual quality which sets us to thinking that with all his remarkable power and command of his craft, he was always, even in his least serious work, seeking to say more than could meet the eye." (P. Horgan in D. Allen and D. Allen, Jr. N.C. Wyeth, The Collected Paintings, Illustrations and Murals, New York, 1972, pp. 11-12)
This painting is included in the N.C. Wyeth catalogue raisonné database that is being compiled by the Brandywine River Museum and Conservancy, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania as number 1113.