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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year Art

Circumcision of Christ, 11th-century, Menologion of Basil
A French Happy New Year card,
Virtually no one today sends "Happy New Year" cards. At best the holiday gets tacked on to a "Merry Christmas" missive seemingly as an afterthought, more or less reduced to Rodney Dangerfield status getting little or no respect. Yet, in delving back into the past as I'm prone to do, I find quite a number of such greeting cards dating from the early 20th century when printed greetings first became popular in the U.S. Apparently greeting card publishers were wont to sacrifice a perfectly good holiday by lumping it in with one far more popular. Today, even Christmas cards are on the way out in favor of e-mail greetings at a greatly reduced cost. I Can even imagine anyone mailing out Happy New Year cards today.
An artist's New Year's resolutions
--in one year and out the other.
Actually, New Year's Day is a religious holiday. It's celebrated by the Anglican Church and the Lutherans as the date of Christ's circumcision (I shudder to think of how it's celebrated). Christ's circumcision, as required by Old Testament law, and New Year's Day both fall seven days after the Christ child's birth. The 11th-century painter, Menologion of Basil depicted the Circumcision of Christ (top) in what may be the very first New Year's Day painting. Of course, that assumes Jesus was born on Christmas Day, which modern-day theologians doubt very seriously.

It's difficult to place a date here, but judging from the background,
this would appear to be from London and the late 1800s
Inasmuch as the English invented the Christmas card it's not surprising that they may also have invented the New Year's card as seen in the humorous little incident above. In the U.S., Frances Brundage, around 1910, seems to have been the first artist to recognize the importance in linking Father Time and the traditional New Year's Baby into a single New Year's theme as seen in his two greetings below. However, the concept of "Father Time" goes back a good deal farther than Frances Brundage to around 1627 and the painting by the French artist, Simon Vouet, Father Time Overcome by Love, Hope and Beauty (bottom) in which he depicts the pagan god, Saturn, in the role of the aged, bearded one.

Frances Brundage's New Year's greeting dating from 1910
Looks like Brundage's New Year's tyke is enjoying a wild ride.
Of course, in the more recent past century, it was the magazine cover artists such as Norman Rockwell and J.C. Leynedecker, who were responsible for updating New Year's images to the ranking of icons. Leyendecker's Cleaning Up (below, left) dates from exactly one-hundred years ago though he casts his naked little New Year's baby in the starring role apparently trying to clean up the military mess in Europe at the time. Many people have come to confuse the holiday covers contributed to the Saturday Evening Post by Leynedecker and Rockwell. Actually, Rockwell did only two or three New Year's themed covers (below, right), while Leynedecker, in a totally different, more dated style, contributed nearly a dozen, including all the iconic "baby" images.

J.C. Leynedecker, 1915
Norman Rockwell, 1945
A 2015 depiction of New Year's Eve
Today, there are few large-format news magazines and in any case, they don't often use the art of illustrators on their covers. They've long since switched to grizzly photos of poverty, death, and destruction to sell their financially troubled print editions, and frequently using still more troubling images in recapping the highlights of the past year on their news Websites. However, painters still render sometimes expressionistic images of Times Square (left) and the more tech savvy do the same with 3D drawing software (below). Whether it's babies or Father Time, a glass ball descending the fa├žade of a Times Square high-rise, fireworks, or a graphic cloud of "in one year and out the other" resolutions, this first day of January holiday continues to inspire artist in trying to find new ways of capturing the hope, joy, and hangovers of having survived into yet one more year of living.

Happy New Year HD Wallpaper by Techblogstop.
Compare this to the New Year's image (below) from almost four centuries years ago.
Father Time Overcome by Love, Hope, and Beauty, Simon Vouet
--Happy New Year, 1672!

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