Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Red and Green: Merry Rockwell Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all of you!

Typical Rockwell Santa before Sundblom's Coke ads. 
Norman Rockwell is well-known for many a Christmas cover painting featuring Santa Claus. However, he also liked to compose his other pictures around complementary contrasts. To mark the occasion I have compiled ten Christmas covers without Santa Claus that are nevertheless based on red and green.

In Christian color canonization green stands both for mercy and hope. It is therefore no surprise that Christians brought green christmas trees into their homes to celebrate the anniversary of their Redeemer's birth. Especially during the 20th century, red and green have become associated with Christmas to such an extent that any product logo composed of these complementary colors reminds us of christmas.

Nowadays most Americans are aware that their conception of Santa Claus as a red dressed man hearkens back to a series of Haddon Sundblom's ad paintings for Coca Cola starting in 1931 that referred to Thomas Nast's earlier Santa depictions.

If you mix red and green (pigments, not light, that is) you usually end up with a muddy brown that leans toward either of the two colors depending on which dominates the mixture proportionately. For easier study of the color combinations I have added three swatches at the bottom of every painting indicating the tonality of the defining areas of red, brown and green.

Rockwell Christmas Paintings Beyond Santa In Chronological Order

Norman Rockwell seems to have organized his paintings mainly on tonal values and not around the combination of different hues. When it came to color however, it looks like he favored complementary contrasts (possibly because they were less prone to printing deficiencies than analogous color schemes). Many of his magazine illustrations are composed around blue-yellow or red-green complementary contrasts.

In celebration of his Christmas covers, I have gathered ten of his Christmas paintings without Santa Claus that are mainly composed of red and green.

All of these composition are relatively flat and graphical, just look at the three full frontal characters from the 1930s. Before WWII the characters are vividly modelled with strong contrast of values and thus read equally well in black and white. However, he employs high-key lighting in all of the post-war paintings below. Thus, the flat staging is even more conspicuous.

Note: There are always two "originals": the oil paintings and the first print covers (reproducing colors differently). Most of these digitized pictures (below) look probably very different in reality. I didn't adjust white balance or any such thing because I don't have enough knowledge of the printing techniques or paper used for these covers.








This inferior reproduction (above) demonstrates how different colors can influence our perception of an artwork: Gone is the red-green contrast and thus the Christmas allusion. The heightened saturation also minimized the contrast between the brown drawers and the red dress

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