Christmas is just around the corner, and for those of us living in the free world Christmas will be a time of merriment, family, and shopping… though William James GlackensChristmas Shoppers was painted over 100 years ago in 1912 things don’t feel as if they’ve changed all that much for us. Glackens’ washed out pastel colors and the frenzied shoppers convey a sense of warmth even though his painting is set in New York City in the winter. However this is a tale of two Christmases….
One can get lost enjoying the varied portrayals of Christmas shoppers in all their varied states as well as the general mercantile atmosphere. Contrast Glackens’ painting with Jacek Malczewski‘s Christmas Eve in Siberia completed 30-years earlier.
In Malczewski’s painting you have a group of men, presumably deportees in exile, whom are having quite the “Scrooged” Christmas dinner which is basically no dinner at all save a small hunk of bread and perhaps boiling water or tea on the samovar in the rear. The dark colors and general atmosphere of malaise in this painting convey a Christmas that would give the shoppers in Glackens’ painting something extra to be grateful for — and we, the contemporary viewer as well.
It’s ironic that the miserable conditions Malczewski wanted to highlight back in 1892 would likely become the norm in Siberia and all over Russia after the October Revolution throughout the years of Lenin and Stalin and even long after. In the United States, during the Great Depression which would mark the the final months of Calvin Coolidge’s presidency, all of Herbert Hoover’s, and the majority of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s — Americans would experience the same type of Christmas as those depicted in Maclzewski’s.
Today, perhaps most everyone reading this article experiences Christmas from the perspective of William James Glackens, but that’s not to say that somewhere in the world, somewhere even in New York City, there aren’t people experiencing Christmas from the perspective of Jacek Malczewski.
I present these two images not to highlight wealth disparity or something political around the holidays, but as a reminder that there’s always something to be grateful for — even if it’s only the friends we keep.