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THE CHRISTY PAINTINGS
Howard Chandler Christy
There are two paintings by famed American artist, Howard Chandler Christy, located at the Stephen Foster Museum. Christy, who was no relation with the minstrel leader E.P. Christy, was a very well-known illustrator from the 1890's on. His dapper men and Christy Girls (similar to Charles Dana Gibson’s Gibson Girls) models were the height of fashion in the early decades of the 20th century. Both paintings were commissioned for the first showing when the Museum opened to the public in 1950 and both capture the painter’s interpretation of Foster’s music.
The first, Beautiful Dreamer, was painted in 1948 from a photograph of Foster. A very lush 20th century view of the composer and his romantic fantasies. Three of Stephen Foster’s songs are represented by the images in the painting. “Beautiful Dreamer” is represented in the top left of the painting. “Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair” is represented in the top right; and “Old Folks at Home” is represented by the image behind the chair.
The second painting is Many Happy Days I Squandered. The title of the painting is derived from the second verse of “Old Folks at Home” which has a line that reads “many happy days I squandered, many the songs I sung.” The painting you see is Christy’s interpretation of the second verse of that song. The young boy in the painting represents Foster as Christy perceived what he might have looked like at this early age. The girl pictured represents a friend and refers to the days of carefree youth. Christy completed Many Happy Days in 1950, two years before his death.
Christy was paid $5,000 each for the two paintings. Each of the paintings measures 62 square feet in area. Christy chose Italian- born artist, Azeglio Pancani, to hand carve the frames for many of his paintings, including the two above. Finished in gold leaf, A. Pancani was paid $300 per frame.
A third Christy painting of Foster entitled “INSPIRATION” is located at My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Kentucky.
Many Happy Days I Squandered
Howard Chandler Christy (1873-1952) was born in Morgan County, Ohio, on January 10, 1873 to Francis Marion Christy and Mary Matilda Bone Chandler Christy. At the age of two his family moved to a farm near Duncan Falls in Muskingum County. Christy’s parents encouraged his early artistic endeavors, his father purchased him his first set of watercolors at the age of four. Young Christy showed little interest in academics and left school at the age of twelve to work on his family’s farm. His favorite pastimes revolved around the Muskingum River, where he sketched, painted, fished, and rode the steamboats.At the age of 17, Christy left home to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. He studied under the renowned impressionist artist, William Merritt Chase (1849-1916) at The Art Students League in New York City.
In 1898, with the onset of the Spanish-American War, Christy offered his artistic abilities as a war correspondent. He documented much of the major action of the Spanish-American War as well as the daily activities of the soldiers. These with pen and ink illustrations were widely published back in the United States. He had the opportunity to travel with Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and a friendship between the artist and the future president was born. Christy’s sketches of Roosevelt, his soldiers, and other military personnel were later published as a portfolio entitled Men of the Army and Navy in 1899.
After the war, Christy was working for the magazine, Scribner’s, when his painting The Soldier’s Dream was debuted, and his famous 'Christy Girl' was born. The ‘Christy Girl,' like Charles Dana Gibson’s ‘Gibson Girl,’ evolved from a single character, into a type— the ideal American Woman. Christy once stated that the "Christy girl" was "High-bred, aristocratic and dainty though not always silken-skirted; a woman with tremendous self-respect." In fact, Charles Gibson introduced Christy to his second wife and Christy Girl model, Nancy Palmer.
As WWI developed, Christy became increasingly involved in war efforts. He donated approximately 40 paintings to be reproduced as posters for recruitment, bond sales, victory loans, and service organizations. These posters featured various incarnations of the Christy Girl, from altruistic angels, ghosts, and nurses to female representations of “Liberty” and “Justice.” 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". Christy’s patriotic feelings ran strong, and he donated both his talents and time for the cause. He reportedly helped sell 7.4 million dollars’ worth of war bonds in 3 hours.
Following the world war, Christy transitioned into becoming a portrait artist. During the 1920s, he painted the portraits of numerous well-known Americans, including Franklin D. Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Benito Mussolini, the Prince of Wales, and Amelia Earhart.
Christy’s later career is also notable for his major historical paintings. These large-scale mural commissions include such works as: “We the People” (1937), “The Signing of the Constitution of the United States” (1940), “The Stephen Foster Memorials” (1940; 1947-50), “The Signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville” (1945), “The Signing of the United Nations’ Charter” (1946-47), and “Dawn of a New Light [Thomas Alva Edison]” (1950).
One of his most famous paintings is among the best known images in the United States Capitol, “The Signing of the Constitution of the United States”, a huge 18-x 26-foot canvas that was painted in the sail loft of the Washington Navy Yard, where Christy at times used enlisted men as models for the figures. After five years of research and seven months of painting, the canvas was dedicated in May 1940 in the Rotunda of the Capitol, where it was on view for 16 months. The 20-by-30-foot frame, made in nine sections including the central eagle and crest, was hand carved and given a gold-leaf finish by Azeglio Pancani of New York. It currently resides in the east grand stairway of the House wing.
The outbreak of World War II resulted in a run of new wartime posters for Christy. Posters executed for WWII had a much more religious tone; an example is “Give Us the Faith and Courage of Our Forefathers” (1942).
Christy’s death at his New York City, Hotel des Artistes studio in 1952 left several commissions in progress, including a portrait of Douglas MacArthur and plans for a historic painting of Gettysburg. He was honored for his contributions to American art and his public service to the country many times. The United States Naval Academy elected him an Honorary Member of the Academy’s Class of 1921. Other honorary decorations were bestowed by the New York Police Force and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. In 1947 the Society of Illustrators made him an honorary member, and in 1951 he received the Ohio Career Medal from the Martha Kinney Cooper Ohioana Library Association. Christy also received medals from the Paris and Chicago Expositions, the National Academy of Design, and the Society for Sanity of Art.