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Artists Artists

1873 - 1952
Photo: The Society of Illustrators
Norman Rockwell: American Imagist

Howard Chandler Christy travelled a long road: from watching steamboats on the Muskingum River in Ohio, to painting presidents, generals, Hollywood stars and society's grand dames. Christy arrived in New York in 1890 to attend the Art Students League, where he studied with William Merritt Chase. At that time, the publishing industry was making great technological advances and Christy sensed that a new field was opening - providing illustrations for burgeoning new periodicals. Reproduction technologies had evolved to the point where the tedious and expensive engraving process was no longer the means for reproducing a painting. New technological innovations inspired this needy young artist to choose illustration as his profession.

His first project was illustrating a manuscript for In Camphor, a book by Frank Crowninshield. After completion, other book commissions rolled in. It was this single book that established Christy as a professional illustrator.

Patriotically moved by the explosion of the Battleship 'Maine', Christy signed on to cover the Spanish-American War. Accompanying the Rough Riders under fire, he illustrated articles published by Scribner's, Harper's, Century, and Leslie's Weekly to the utter delight of readers back home. In the process of covering the war, Christy befriended Col. Theodore Roosevelt and gained an even broader interest in patriotic subjects. By the time he returned home in 1898, he was a celebrity; his fame and reputation were truly secured with 'The Soldier's Dream', published in Scribner's, for which he portrayed a beautiful girl who became known as 'The Christy Girl.' Like 'The Gibson Girl,' she was a prototype for the ideal American woman: high bred, aristocratic and dainty though not always silken-skirted; a woman with tremendous self respect." From this point forward, Christy painted beautiful women for McClure's and other popular magazines. As for book illustrations, he also authored some such as 'The Christy Girl' and 'The American Girl', and that grew his audience exponentially. These images combined to make his notion of a beautiful girl everyone's criteria thereafter. In 1908, he returned to the riverbanks of the Muskingum River and enlarged 'The Barracks,' his childhood home, by adding a studio. In spite of being so far from the mainstream, publishers beat their way to his door. By 1910, his commission rates had reached an astounding average of $1,000 per week.

In 1915, Christy returned to New York and continued on his career path with magazine commissions. As war once again appeared imminent, Christy rallied his talents to assist in the war effort by painting posters for government war bonds, the Red Cross, Navy, Marines, and civilian volunteer efforts. His most famous poster was a young woman dressed in a Navy uniform with the caption, "If I were a man, I would join the Navy", a classic today.

Nude Bathers Dawn of Victory American Dream House

The 1920's were the times for illustrators to reap rewards. New directions, styles and music combined with a business boom to create a huge market for portrait artists. Everyone craved immortality on canvas. It was at this point that Christy turned from illustration to portraiture, painting many notables including: Benito Mussolini; Crown Prince Umberto of Italy; Captain Eddie Rickenbacker; U.S. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Coolidge, Hoover, Polk, Van Buren and Garfield; humorist Will Rogers; aviator Amelia Earhart; General Douglas MacArthur; and Mr. and Mrs. William Randolph Hearst. Exhibitions, commissions, trips to Europe and celebrity elbow-rubbings engaged him completely during the 1920's. In 1925, after his earlier successes with 'The American Girl' and 'The Christy Girl,' Christy was commissioned to create a sculpture, which he titled 'Miss America,' to be awarded Oscar-style to the winner of the first Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, NJ. Christy also served as the only judge for this inaugural competition.

In the 1930-31 period, he became extremely depressed as did so many others after the Great Crash of 1929. In 1934, Christy painted magnificent murals of female nudes at the Cafe des Artistes in New York, a restaurant on the ground floor of his studio building. This marked a new recognition of Christy. A new kind of commission developed for him to paint celebrities and allegorical works depicting historical events, and even posters to memorialize significant historical events. He was painting illustrations again, but of a wholly different sort. The 1940's witnessed Christy undertaking milestone pieces such as The Signing of the Constitution (his most famous mural, which hangs in the Rotunda of the United States Capitol Building), Signing the United Nations Charter and his portrayal of Thomas Edison in Dawn of a New Light. Howard Chandler Christy died peacefully at the age of 80 in 1952, in his beloved studio apartment at the Hotel des Artistes.


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