Artist’s Work in the Collection
Howard Chandler Christy
Born in 1873 in Morgan County, Ohio, Christy studied at the National Academy of Design under William Merritt Chase at the Art Students League. When the U.S. Battleship “Maine” was sunk in Cuba’s Havana harbor during the Spanish-American War, twenty-five year old Christy offered his artistic abilities as a war correspondent for several magazines. Christy documented much of the major action and the daily activities of the soldiers during the war. These drawings were widely published back in the United States, which helped develop his reputation in the field of magazine illustration. His notoriety also provided him with an opportunity to travel with Colonel Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and a friendship between the artist and the future president was born. Christy’s sketches of Roosevelt, his soldiers, and other military personnel were later published as a portfolio entitled Men of the Army and Navy in 1899.
Upon his return to New York after the war, Christy soon found himself labeled a “military” illustrator. Dissatisfied with his constant war story commissions, Christy introduced his trademark Christy Girl in an illustration depicting a female figure in the pipe smoke of a war hero. Entitled “The Soldier’s Dream” and debuting in Scribner’s, this illustration was the first example of Christy’s ideal American woman. The Christy Girl developed into a beautiful, modern and educated young woman, who loved the both the outdoors and sports. “Christy Girls” are identified by the distinct gauzy clothing (almost see-through) draped on a beautiful woman with dark hair, pale skin and dark hair with loose, flowing curls.
Christy’s first marriage was to one of his models, Maybelle Thompson, in 1898. Their relationship was a stormy one, documented in several newspaper gossip columns of the day. In 1908, after separating from his wife, abstaining from alcohol, and turning to Christian Science, Christy and their only daughter, Natalie Chandler Christy, left New York City and returned to the family farm in Duncan Falls, Ohio where Christy built a home named “The Barracks” on this land.
He continued his career in illustration from this site for the next seven years, managing his New York publishers from afar and receiving proofs of magazine serials and novels by mail. During this period his second wife, model Nancy May Palmer, was introduced to him by fellow artist Charles Dana Gibson. Nancy Palmer was hired by Christy and modeled for him at The Barracks until his return to New York City in 1915. Many of the Christy Girls from this period bear a striking resemblance to Nancy Palmer. In 1919, Christy’s divorce to Maybelle Thompson was finalized and he married Nancy May Palmer on August 14. Nancy’s modeling for Christy ended as she became increasingly involved as his manager/social secretary and traveling companion.
When the United States became involved in World War I, Christy felt the need to move back to New York. In 1917 he became the first tenant of the Hotel des Artistes on West Sixty-Seventh Street, where he lived and worked in a two-story studio until his death. As World War I developed, Christy became increasingly involved in war efforts. He donated forty six paintings to be reproduced as posters for recruitment, bond sales, victory loans, and service organizations. These posters featured various incarnations of the Christy Girl, from altruistic angels, ghosts, and nurses to female representations of “Liberty” and “Justice.” Christy’s patriotic feelings ran strong, and he donated both his talents and time for the cause. He reportedly helped sell 7.4 million dollars’ worth of war bonds in 3 hours.
After the war, Christy had retired from posters and magazine illustration and turned to a new career in portraiture. Christy quickly became portrait painter of the elite, including celebrities, socialites, politicians, and prominent businessmen, including Mr. and Mrs. W.R. Hearst, President Warren G. Harding, President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, General John J. Pershing, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, Amelia Earhart, Eddie Rickenbacker, Will Hays, Lillian Russell, Will Rogers, Benito Mussolini, the Prince of Wales, and Italian Crown Prince Umberto.
Christy’s later career is also notable for his major historical paintings. These large-scale mural commissions include such works as: “We the People” (1937), “The Signing of the Constitution of the United States” (1940), “The Stephen Foster Memorials” (1940; 1947-50), “The Signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville” (1945), “The Signing of the United Nations’ Charter” (1946-47), and “Dawn of a New Light [Thomas Alva Edison]” (1950). Later religious canvases include titles such as “Giving the Great Commission,” “Jesus the Christ,” and “Peace on Earth.” He died in 1952.