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Before the Gospel Art Kit (I)

By: Ardis E. Parshall - November 11, 2009

Long before there was a Gospel Art Kit with standardized pictures classified by subject in every ward library and a Gospel Art Book available for home purchase, the church magazines were the chief source of illustrations for classroom use. Beginning in the 1940s, The Instructor began printing gospel pictures on the cover, with the magazine’s name and publication date relegated to a relatively small space that did not obstruct the cover art, allowing the cover to be mounted and used as a classroom illustration. About the same time, that magazine began publishing flannelboard drawings to paint, cut out, and mount, and eventually published centerfold illustrations specifically for use with Sunday School lessons (a chart on the inside cover of every issue coordinated magazine illustrations with current lessons). Before the 1950s, though, every teacher was more or less on her own to find materials to enliven classroom stories.

One spectacular exception occurred in The Children’s Friend of 1908.

To appreciate the novelty of that year’s exception, consider the general visual state of the church magazines from that era:

None of the church magazines had the capability of printing color covers. The Children’s Friend, for instance, had an exceedingly plain cover. (All the covers for the 1908 issues were removed before the magazines were bound, but here is a cover from 1907, complete with the 2¢ stamp that carried this issue to the library in the Salt Lake Temple. Even inside the magazine, there were no illustrations at all. By 1909, the Children’s Friend was printing a very few black-and-white reproductions of religious artwork.

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Heinrich Hofmann, “Christ in the Temple”

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The Juvenile Instructor used color ink on its cover, framing small black-and-white pictures, some with a religious theme, many just small portraits of children. Each issue carried perhaps a dozen internal illustrations, both black-and-white photos and black-and-white drawings, very few of which could have been used in the classroom (this photo of Book of Mormon pages might have been so used; the more numerous story illustrations would not have been). Most issues of the Juvenile Instructor also featured one or two black-and-white reproductions of quality art pieces:

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Heinrich Hofmann, “Head of Christ”

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We have already seen illustrations of the kinds of black-and-white pictures used in the Young Woman’s Journal of this era; on the young men’s side, The Improvement Era similarly published black-and-white photographs of church subjects, and black-and-white reproductions of artworks.

Henry Farney, “Mountain Trail”

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So with that as prelude, knowing what Latter-day Saint readers expected of their magazines in the way of illustration, imagine the startling effect produced by the Children’s Friend when, in 1908, it published a full color illustration in every issue! So far as I have determined, these are the first color illustrations used by the church. They do not appear to have been printed locally, but obtained pre-printed from a supply house in New York City, to be inserted in each copy of the Children’s Friend as it was bound.

These paintings are all from illustrations (a phenomenal 400 paintings!) of the life of Christ produced by J. James Tissot (1836-1902), a French painter of society and wealth who, at the age of 50, made an abrupt change and devoted the last years of his life to illustrating first the life of Christ, and then scenes from the Old Testament. His style is not much appreciated in our generation, but in the early years of the 20th century, when these pictures appeared in our children’s magazine, he was wildly popular.

I think opening the magazine to see one of these paintings, month after month, must have been to our grandparents as dazzling as Dorothy’s view of a Technicolor Land of Oz after leaving her black-and-white Kansas, or as the final scenes in Schindler’s List where black-and-white returns to color with the lighting of the Sabbath candle.

From the 1908 Children’s Friend:

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Saint Joseph Seeks a Lodging at Bethlehem.

St. Luke ii. 4. “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea,
unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem.”

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The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

St. Luke ii. 28. “Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God.”

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Jesus Sitting in the Midst of the Doctors.

St. Luke ii. 46. “They found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors.”

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Jesus Found in the Temple.

St. Luke ii. 49. “And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me?
wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”

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First Miraculous Draught of Fishes.

St. Luke v. 6. “And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes; and their net brake.”

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Christ Sendeth Out Seventy Two-by-Two

St. Luke x. 1. “After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two.”

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The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam.

St. John ix. 7. “He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.”

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The Rich Young Man Went Away Sorrowful.

St. Matthew xix, 22. “But when the young man heard that saying,
he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions.

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Christ Driving Out Those that Sold in the Temple.

St. Matthew xxi, 12. “And Jesus went into the temple of God,
and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple.”

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The Palsied Man Let Down through the Roof.

St. Mark ii. 4. “They uncovered the roof where he was; and when they had broken it up they let down the bed wherein the sick of the palsy lay.”

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Jesus Healing the Blind and Lame.

St. Matthew xv, 30. “And great multitudes came unto him,
having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed.”

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Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.

St. John vi, II. “And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks,
He distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were sat down.”



16 Comments »

  1. I like the style. These are beautiful! Was this a one year phenomenon? Are the rest of the series available for view elsewhere?

    Comment by Eric Boysen — November 11, 2009 @ 8:00 am

  2. This was a one-year thing as far as the Children’s Friend was concerned, and I don’t know how they picked which of the hundreds of paintings to use because they weren’t coordinated with lessons. Many, if not all, of the series are now housed in the Jewish Museum in NY — this NYTimes article explains how that came to be, and also gives some great background on the artist and his paintings.

    I’m glad you like the style. I think if we could see them full size rather than scrunched down to a post card, the heavier lines would fan out and we’d have brighter, less-muddy color in many cases.

    The NYTimes article points out that although Tissot took artistic liberty whenever he thought a subject deserved it, he also spent time in the Holy Land trying to get the landscapes and cultural details right.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 11, 2009 @ 8:14 am

  3. This site shows dozens of the paintings from the passion events. This Brooklyn Museum site has 431 Tissot images on display. Googling may find other great online collections.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 11, 2009 @ 8:20 am

  4. Wow, thanks for bringing out this illustration history and these paintings to light!

    Comment by Rob — November 11, 2009 @ 8:24 am

  5. Thanks for the info. The sequence is vaguely temporally sequenced, but there are so many important events that they did not capture in that year and lesser events that they did.

    Comment by Eric Boysen — November 11, 2009 @ 8:24 am

  6. Glad you like it, Rob. We’re so saturated with images and color today that it makes it difficult for me to read the Ensign except in its stripped-down online version. 1908 was a whole different world, though, no?

    Eric, I agree — hard to know how they chose what to include, isn’t it? The paintings of the infant and youth Jesus would be naturals for a Primary setting; perhaps the commissioning of the Seventy and the healings were considered especially appropriate to a Latter-day Saint audience; but I can’t guess any particular reason for others.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 11, 2009 @ 8:59 am

  7. I like these pictures, too. I think you are right, this would have been sensational in 1908. To me, they remind somewhat of the paintings of Minerva Teichert.

    Comment by kevinf — November 11, 2009 @ 10:07 am

  8. I really liked these paintings because they are not familiar to us, therefore, they are “new.” I like Tissot’s imagination in creating the paintings. I can’t recall ever seeing illustrations of some of the Bible stories he used. It was fun. Thank you for the introduction to the images in the church magazines, and also for the NY Times link and the other links, which tell more about Tissot.

    Comment by Maurine — November 11, 2009 @ 11:39 am

  9. Wow!

    Comment by sister blah 2 — November 11, 2009 @ 11:44 am

  10. Very nice post, Ardis. Out of curiosity, I searched for Tissot using lds.org. I vaguely recall seeing some of his paintings in church magazines over the years, but I knew nothing about him until today. Thanks.

    Comment by Justin — November 12, 2009 @ 8:32 am

  11. I feel foolish, Justin, for admitting that I didn’t think to do that! Thanks.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 12, 2009 @ 8:37 am

  12. What a beautiful gallery! I would think there are collections of these saved by subscribers that are in old trunks in attics even today, like my folder of prints of Freiberg Book of Mormon illustrations.

    But where did the Henry Farny (who added the “e”?) fit in? Farny was a prolific painter of Western Americana, especially native Americans, who lived in Ohio but regularly traveled west to gather material. He lived in Taos for a short time but did most of his studio work in Ohio. An Indian or Indians on a canyonside trail was a recurring theme. I saw some of his work in a gallery in Santa Fe a few years ago.

    Thanks much.

    Comment by Curt A. — November 13, 2009 @ 10:05 am

  13. I suspect you’re right, Curt — these post-card size images would have been perfect for scrapbooks, too.

    Farny’s painting, like the other black-and-white ones shown here, doesn’t have anything to do with the Tissot series (“Mountain Trail” was used to illustrate a pioneer story, if I recall correctly). I just included a few black-and-white illustrations from church magazines published during the same year so that you would, by contrast, appreciate how spectacular the color must have seemed to readers accustomed to only black-and-white.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — November 13, 2009 @ 10:13 am

  14. Ahh… the wonders of 4-color offset printing. I suspect that the lack of color was a function of the technology available at the Deseret News Press.

    Comment by Clark — November 17, 2009 @ 11:53 am

  15. Hey! Now I’ve seen these paintings in person. The Brooklyn Museum referenced above has loaned the collection to BYU. If any readers live in on the Wasatch Front, the BYU art museum is now hosting a Tissot exhibit through mid- January.

    The exhibit also displays Joseph F. Smith’s Tissot Bible, which being published in 1890-something, foud its way to Utah within a few short years.

    The museum is also hosting an exhibit with many of Carl Bloch’s famous New Testament paintings. I walked through last night and found it very enjoyable.. then again, I enjoy that sort of thing.

    Comment by Clark — December 2, 2010 @ 11:07 am

  16. I *have* to figure out a way to get down there before this disappears! Thanks for the reminder.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 2, 2010 @ 11:47 am

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