Jessie Willcox Smith (1863- 1935) | A Christmas Morning Kodak, 1904 | Advertisement illustration for Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, NY

It’s Christmas morning, the family’s youngest child has opened her presents and discovered the wonderful things tucked into the stocking carefully hung from the bedpost at the foot of her bed. While we can see in this Kodak advertisement that she has a new doll, a book, and a shinny brass trumpet, no doubt we cannot see everything that she has received. To record this precious moment, the girl’s older brother positions his new Kodak screen focus camera just so, as he gets ready to take a photograph. The advertisement’s tag line says that taking a Kodak photo is a “. . . means of keeping green the Christmas memories . . . .”

While the girl and her doll are charming, I confess one of my favorite parts of Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration is the bit of dirt marring the perfection of the little girl’s left foot as it rests against the whiteness of the bed linens. Like the paintings of young children by the French academic painter William-Adolphe Bougereau (1825-1905), whose specialty was painting the beauty and physicality of the female body down to their dirty bare feet, Smith’s disheveled little girl grasping her new doll seems more real than merely precious.

To create this advertising illustration, Smith revisited a theme she had already explored in 1902– a young girl sitting on her bed with her right arm inside her long black stocking as she searches for the rest of her Christmas presents tucked inside. In 1902 this illustration decorated the calendar page for November and December (see below). The calendar was a joint production of illustrations Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green and was produced by the Beck Engraving Company of Philadelphia. The following year, 1903, the same illustrations were again used in The Book of the Child by Mabel Humphrey published in New York by Frederick A. Stokes Company.
Jessie Willcox Smith (1863-1935). Opening the Christmas Stocking, 1902 for the November-December page, in the calendar The Child. Charcoal, watercolor, and gouache n illustration board. Collection of The National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, R.I.

By 1904 Smith’s illustrations were already recognizably popular. A decade earlier she began her illustration studies (despite having been working in the field since 1888) with Howard Pyle in his first illustration class taught at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. By 1897 Pyle had arrange the commission of illustrating Longfellow’s Evangeline for his students, Jessie Willcox Smith and Elizabeth Shippen Green. Before the publication of this Kodak advertising illustration, Smith was awarded a silver medal for illustration at the St. Louis Louisiana Purchase Exposition.

In subsequent years Eastman Kodak would continue to use the services of illustrators to create advertising images for their campaigns, but they would also begin to shift their advertising images to photographs instead of illustration.

Elizabeth Shippen Green (1871-1954).  And then again, when snow and ice hold all outdoors–, 1906.  Advertisement illustration for Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester,  NY.

Hope your holidays are filled with joy.

December 15, 2011

By Joyce K. Schiller, Curator, Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, Norman Rockwell Museum

[i] For more information on the production of this calendar see the Exploring Illustration entry for April 8, 2010 called, “The Child, a calendar.”
By |2016-11-14T10:19:40-04:00December 16th, 2011|Essays on Illustration|0 Comments

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