Maybe it is exactly his appeal to the young that keep him out of mind of serious artists but still, if you deliver presents to every child in the world every year, some appreciation and reverence would be expected, even from the world of art. But so far, Santa Claus has not received much of this.
There are exceptions, of course, though they are rare and far between. The most prolific painter of Santa Claus, by was, and also a main contributor to the way we all imagine Santa Claus, is Normal Rockwell. Indeed, in the 20th century, with the possible exception of Disney, nobody did more to shape our perception of the mighty Claus. With classics like The Discovery, Santa and Scouts in Snow, Santa with Elves and more, Rockwell not only made a habit of depicting Santa. He did it in such a way that set the standard for who Santa was and how we would expect to see him portrayed. Allegedly, even Santa Claus himself was a fan.
Rockwell himself is among the most prolific American artists of the 20th century and highly esteemed in his home country. Through especially his 40 years illustrating the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, Rockwell created illustrations depicting real-life scenarios that resonated with the American public. However, Rockwell also did numerous paintings. The largest collection of his work can be found at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Rockwell also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian award, for “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country”. However, as discussed in the above, it was not only US citizens that enjoyed clear and real depictions in Rockwell’s work. Even citizens of the North Pole were well included.
With the amount of works depicting Santa Claus produced by Rockwell, many of them counted among his major works, one can wonder why nobody else has taken up this iconic character. A series of silk screens by Warhol seems to be the logical next step. Santa Claus is after all more famous than many of the subjects Warhol decided upon, though in his defense, it was possible to get an actual photograph of those people, whereas Santa Claus manages to stay more elusive. Howard Hughes himself must be an admirer of the ability of Santa Claus to stay clear of camera lenses of reporters.
There is however one group of artists for which the subject of Santa Claus never seems to grow old. Indeed, they happily draw and paint him, year after year, whenever Christmas is approaching. I am talking of course about the children. Their fascination with Santa seems eternal, and they are not shy about depicting him. Maybe that is better homage, after all. The people he is there for depicting him with loving care at every turn. That never ending artistic homage to Santa is truly unique. Never mind, then, that most grown up artists just don’t get it!