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Motor Illustrator: Howard Chandler Christy

August 1922 cover. A young gypsy woman sits at a table and consults a crystal ball, finding there a black touring car.

August 1922 cover. A young gypsy woman sits at a table and consults a crystal ball, finding there a black touring car.

Howard Chandler Christy (January 10, 1872 — March 3, 1952) was an artist and illustrator best known for his "Christy Girl", a prototypical young woman as she emerged into independence: romantic, alluring, confident, and sometimes daring. He illustrated covers for MoToR magazine from 1915 to 1924. His cars played only a minor part in presentations of "Christy girls", fresh-faced women dressed in lush, or sometimes filmy, drapery.

Christy was born south of Zanesville, Ohio and, until age 12, went to school in Duncan Falls, Ohio. He grew up on a farm there and, at age 3 or 4, began sketching the farm animals. When his dad got him a water color set, he was off to the races. At 10, he painted a bull on a sign for the neighborhood butcher--and made ten dollars. His parents encouraged his artistic leanings but also taught him the value of farming, fishing, and home life. As a teenager, he'd sometimes board the steam boat up river to Zanesville. While on board, he'd paint passenger portraits for a fee. He was saving up to study art in New York.

In 1890, when he thought he had enough money, some of which his parents lent him, he headed east and began his art studies under impressionist painter William Merritt Chase at New York's Art Students League. He ran out of money sooner than he thought he would, though, and had to return to Ohio. But he was back in New York by 1892, studying again with Chase, this time at the National Academy. Chase helped him develop a realistic style, and he began illustrating magazines (Scribner's, Ladies Home Journal, Harper's, The Illustrated Sunday Magazine, The Century, Leslie's Weekly, and others) and books. Those included such titles as Hamlet (1897); The Lion and the Unicorn (1899); The Courtship of Miles Standish (1903); Evangeline (1905), and The Christy Girl (1906). He also published several portfolios of his art work, including the impressive volume from 1899: Pastel Portraits from the Romantic Drama. Christy's work was in demand, as well, for advertising campaigns such as those for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Selz Good shoes, Mallory Hats, the Bamberger Department Store, Jack Tar Togs, and others.

His illustrations were popularized by his 1898 Spanish-American War battlefield drawings, particularly of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders. He quickly became successful enough to open a well-appointed, lavishly decorated studio in Ohio in 1908, where he continued with illustrations but also painted landscapes and portraits. His return to his roots had been occasioned by a public separation from his wife. He and his young daughter needed to get away from the City. Money seems not to have been an issue for them. Christy's weekly income at the time averaged about a thousand dollars; he was doing very well, indeed.

By 1915, however, he had returned to New York and opened a studio there. On his return to the City, he had begun a teaching career in illustration, as well, teaching at The Art Students League, Cooper Union, The New York School of Art, and the Chase School.

His poster work during WWI encouraged popular support for the war effort. He donated at least forty paintings, mostly of "Christy girls", to be used for recruitment, bond sales, service organizations, etc. Perhaps his best known War poster was one depicting a "Christy girl" in naval uniform, saying, "Gee, I wish I were a MAN, I'd join the NAVY."

Post-War, however, the artist 's views changed somewhat, leading him to move away from the optimistic "Christy girl" to more thoughtful portraits of well-known figures such as FDR, Amelia Earhart, William Randolph Hearst, Will Hays, and others. Commissions rolled in, as did opportunities for travel and art exhibitions. By now on his second wife, the couple led an active social life, and their activities were followed in the press.

When the Great Depression brought an end to such free-spending ways, Christy's popularity took a tumble. His health suffered as a result. He was depressed at times and, periodically, suffered from periods of blindness. He reacted by turning to more inward reflections of things that moved him, primarily painting landscapes and lovely young women. And he tried his hand at murals, painting allegorical subjects, historical events, religious themes, etc. Not surprisingly, he did well with his newly chosen techniques, too. In 1934, for instance, he painted murals of playful female nudes for the ground-level restaurant Café des Artistes. The café was central to the studio apartments (such as one he occupied) at Hotel des Artistes. Once again, commissions materialized, and in 1937, the artist would begin work on one of his best-known murals, "The Signing of the Constitution", a 20- x by 30-foot canvas that still hangs in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building.

During WWII, his poster work was once more in use. His "I am An American" image was hoisted above Times Square in 1941. Another, "Fly for Her Liberty and Yours" was done on behalf of the U.S. Army Air Forces. And his image of a dark and somber Uncle Sam beseeching Heaven ("Give Us the Faith and Courage of Our Forefathers") was used both for World War II and for the Korean War.

Christy, the cheerful, garrulous artist with an outsized personality, had been a member of The Lambs, The Aldine Club (a gentleman's club meant to encourage art and literature), and The Players (a gentleman's club, founded by Edwin Booth, where actors could socialize with the elite), as well as numerous arts organizations. He received medals from the Paris and Chicago Expositions, the National Academy of Design, and the Society for Sanity of Art (for those in opposition to modern art). Still at work on several commissions at the time of his death, he died in slumber at the age of 80.

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