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.
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.
Hope your holidays are filled with joy.
December 15, 2011
[i] For more information on the production of this calendar see the Exploring Illustration entry for April 8, 2010 called, “The Child, a calendar.” https://www.rockwell-center.org/exploring-illustration/the-child-a-calendar/