Work of the Week– “Merry Christmas All” by Henry Hammond Ahl
By Haley Clement
Check your calendars, friends: Summer has officially started, which means we have begun the six-month countdown to the holidays. To celebrate, let us take a look at Henry Hammond Ahl’s Merry Christmas All.
Even if you do not celebrate Christmas or care much for it, I think everyone can agree that this oil painting delivers a hearty dose of holiday cheer – perhaps enough to keep us content until the temperature finally drops. Once you strip whichever holidays you may celebrate down to their core, you see that they all emphasize the importance of the same thing: family.
Now “family”, I have learned, can mean different things to different people. Sometimes, your “family” includes the people you grew up with in your life and sometimes it includes the people you meet along the way. Whatever “family” means to you, let us agree on the fact that this painting, devoid of any actual human figures, somehow manages to shout the word out to viewers.
This relates to Impressionism, which is a characteristic style of many of Ahl’s paintings. Impressionists focused more on conveying a fleeting moment and the experience to which it bestowed as opposed to the photograph-like precision of a scene that artists before dedicated their work to. For example, whereas Ahl managed to portray warmth in a scene dominated by the night and snow, other artists may have been more literal to depict the same concept and perhaps would have painted an idealized scene of a family by a fire. That is, of course, a very generalized statement, but it is nonetheless something to take note of. Just as this cottage is enveloped in a blanket of snow, we can imagine the people inside to be cozily wrapped in their own blankets. In terms of color usage, we also see the reflection of the moon on the snow, which helps to break up the cool, grey tones with a nice, welcoming glow.
As for more information regarding Ahl, he was born on December 20, 1869 in Connecticut and quickly developed an interest in art. While young, Ahl traveled around Europe and studied at Munich’s Royal Academy and Paris’ Ecole des Beaux Arts. In addition to having impressionist influences, Ahl’s work often features prominent political figures or religious scenes.
Not a fan of snow and dreading its arrival? The Museum also has an oil painting by Ahl of a summer day in our Permanent Collection. Check it out!
Artwork above: Henry Hammond Ahl, Merry Christmas All, 1935, oil painting, 8.00 x 10 inches, Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Everett James, Jr.. Permanent Collection. 1992.07.15.21.