Have you ever thought about how Santa disembarks from his sled and drags that bag of toys into the chimney? I have not, but it’s a complicated proposal when the chimney is tall and the roof is steeply pitched. If the sled lands on the snow-covered roof, Santa would have to clamber up to the chimney’s opening, and he is not an action star. Also, the roof may not be large, so where would the reindeer alight—on the downslope? Even magical physics seems to rule against that. Plus, it would make for a weird composition in a picture.
Designing the cover for a new edition of Clement C. Moore’s classic The Night Before Christmas, Everett Shinn put some thought into this conundrum. His solution, seen here, involves a plank. It’s kind of like a dock plate for unloading a truck.
Shinn may have felt compelled to consider such practical logistics because he began his career as a newspaper illustrator in the 1890s. He had a flair for catching activity in motion with dashing lines, and he built his career among realists and impressionists dedicated to depicting daily life in the city. In the early 1900s, Shinn illustrated urban scenes for major magazines and participated in exhibitions organized by progressive artists. He showed his scenes of modern life with The Eight in 1908, alongside William Glackens, George Luks, and John Sloan, whom he met as newspaper artists in Philadelphia in the 1890s. Shinn had a long artistic career, painting, illustrating, and working in theater and film.
In the late 1930s and ’40s, he illustrated classic stories, including a series of Dickens’ tales, for various publishers. To plan his 1942 edition of The Night Before Christmas, Shinn produced a mock-up with several original watercolors in an empty sketchbook. He probably shared this with the publisher for feedback on his designs. He made some alterations for the final cover, but the plank solution remained in the final version.
I hope you stop by the Museum this winter, while this watercolor is on view. (Our feature exhibition The Rossettis is on view through January 28, 2024.) To see Shinn’s clever work, visit the Weinberg Gallery dedicated to the work of Sloan and The Eight. It’s in the wall-mounted case.
Heather Campbell Coyle
Curator of American Art