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Howard Chandler Christy
(Morgan County, OH, 1873 - 1952, New York, NY)
Biography from American Illustrators Gallery:
For Howard Chandler Christy it was a long road from Ohio, watching steamboats on the Muskingum River, to painting Presidents, society’s grand dames, Hollywood stars and Army Generals.
Christy arrived in New York in 1890 to attend the Art Students League where he studied with William Merritt Chase. At that time, great technological advances were being made in publishing, and Christy witnessed a new field opening - providing illustrations for the burgeoning new periodicals.
Reproduction technologies had evolved to the point where engraving was no longer the only means to reproduce a painting. The new technological innovations inspired the needy young artist to turn to illustration as a profession. His first project was illustrating "In Camphor", a book by Frank Crowninshield, which when completed inspired other commissions.
Christy was patriotically moved by the explosion of the Battleship ‘Maine’ and he signed-on to cover the Spanish-American War. Accompanying the Rough Riders under fire, he illustrated articles published by Scribner's, Harpers, Century, and Leslie’s Weekly to the utter delight of readers back home. In the process, Christy befriended Col. Theodore Roosevelt and gained a 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 where he portrayed a beautiful girl known as ‘The Christy Girl.’ Like ‘The Gibson Girl,’ she was a prototype for an ideal American woman, “High bred, aristocratic and dainty though not always silken-skirted; a woman with tremendous self respect."
From that point forward, Christy painted beautiful women for McClure's and other popular magazines. Calendars and book illustrations, some with articles which he authored, such as The Christy Girl, and The American Girl, expanded his audience. These articles and pretty illustrations 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 his childhood home, 'The Barracks', by adding a studio. In spite of being far away from the mainstream, publishers beat their way to his door and by 1910, his commission rates reached an astounding $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 the war effort by painting posters for government war bonds, the Red Cross, Navy, Marines, and in support of civilian volunteer efforts. His famous poster of a young woman dressed in a sailors uniform with the caption, “If I were a man, I would join the Navy”, is a classic from this period.
The 1920's were of course the times for illustrators to reap rewards. New directions, styles and music combined with the business boom to create a huge market for portrait artists, in particular as the wealthy and famous all craved immortality on canvas. Christy turned away from illustration and painted 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 William Randolph Hearst. Exhibitions, commissions, trips to Europe and celebrity elbow-rubbing engaged him completely during the 1920's.
In 1925, after his earlier successes with ‘The American Girl’ and ‘The Christy Girl,’ he was commissioned to undertake a sculpture, which he titled, ‘Miss America’ after having been the sole judge in the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City. It was awarded Oscar-style, to the winner.
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. There was a new recognition of Christy and a new kind of commission painting allegorical works depicting historical events and posters to memorialize significant events. He painted illustrations again, but of a wholly different sort.
The 1940's witnessed Christy undertaking mainly historical pieces such as ‘The Signing of the Constitution’ (his most famous mural, it 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 in NYC.
©2004 National Museum of American Illustration, www.americanillustration.org