#FineArtFriday: Christmas Tree Decoration, artist unknown, 19th century

I finally got around to putting up our Christmas tree here at Casa del Jasperson, and I must say it looks rather gaudy as compared to the one in this painting.

I always dread the ordeal of moving furniture and getting all the decorations out of their hiding place in the garage. But once the tree is up and the work is out of the way, we love having it.

I say I enjoy it–until it’s time to take it down and figure out where to stash the boxes of ornaments in our overstuffed garage.

About this Picture:

  • Artist: Unknown
  • Title: Christmas Tree Decoration
  • Date: second half of the 19th century
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Dimensions : Height: 52.5 cm (20.6 ″); Width: 42 cm (16.5 ″)
  • Location: Private Collection (sold through Dorotheum Auction House)

What I love about this painting:

A young man sits on a low bench and decorates a small fir tree. The furnishings, other than the tree, all are painted in the shadows of the room. A doll lies in the basket at his feet, a toy for his daughter perhaps?

In the background is a beautiful white clock. It has been painted and finely crafted. Poor people would not have owned such an expensive clock.

That clock tells me that while this man may not be rich, he isn’t poor. Even the tree has nice glass ornaments along with decorations of cookies and plain paper.

Chains of colored paper, historically an expensive crafting commodity, also decorate it.

Most poor families didn’t have cut trees, or lavish presents. But the children might wake to find their stockings with an apple or nuts in them, special treats for families that were always on the edge of starvation.

Here in America, in less affluent homes during the early decades of the 20th century, paper chains might have been hung on the tree, along with ornaments made of baked salt-dough and cut-paper. A lot of work went into to creating these ornaments every year, which was part of the fun of getting ready for Christmas.

My maternal grandmother, who was born in 1909, always made paper snowflakes and angels, and strung popcorn and cranberries to decorate her tree.

The man in this painting is dressed in traditional well-made craftsman’s clothing—a simple shirt and vest, apron, leather breeches.

There are curtains of a heavy material at the window, and the tree is set on a beautifully carved table. Is he a woodworker or a clock maker? Who knows, but this man earns enough to live comfortably and celebrate modestly.

This is a quintessential image of old-fashioned Christmas in all its homey prosperity.

According to Wikimedia Commons, the artist who painted this picture is unknown. The Dorotheum Website attributes the painting to an unknown Central European artist.

To me, it is an example of the best of 19th Century European romantic art. It’s a perfect example of a subject near and dear to Victorian souls—that simple, romanticized version of Christmas that we still love today.

This painting makes me think of a Christmas card. Whoever the artist was, they were talented and trained in the craft of painting. They had the knack for conveying homey simplicity in their work.

About Dorotheum via Wikipedia:

The Dorotheum (German pronunciation: [ˌdoːʀoˈteːʊm] (listen)), established in 1707, is one of the world’s oldest auction houses.[1] It has its headquarters in Vienna on the Dorotheergasse and is the largest auction house in both Continental and German-speaking Europe.  Besides auctions, the retail sector also plays a major role in Dorotheum’s business.[3] In the Dorotheum, works of art, antiques, furniture, and jewelry from various centuries are put up for auction. The building is constructed in the neo-classical style.

Credits and Attributions:

Wikimedia Commons contributors, “File:Christmas Tree Decoration.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Christmas_Tree_Decoration.jpg&oldid=378771434 (accessed December 20, 2019).

Wikipedia contributors, “Dorotheum,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Dorotheum&oldid=921309125 (accessed December 20, 2019).


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