Students are huddling in Stommons, heaters are on full blast in all the dorms, and Locust is swarming with Canada Goose—it’s official: Winter is upon us. If you’re yearning for a little cheer in the long, cold weeks ahead, look no further than Philly’s local art establishments. Take a peek inside the back catalogue for our favorite seasonal picks from the Barnes, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and our very own Penn Museum.

Nativity of Christ (c. 15th Century), Oil and tempera with gold leaf on panel, 17 3/8 x 13 1/4 in, Photo courtesy of the Barnes Foundation.

Nativity of Christ, Barnes Foundation

A charming rendition of the fabled story of Jesus’s birth, this 15th–century painting is on permanent display at the Barnes Foundation. From the gold leaf details to the warm–hued cloaks and gowns to the grazing sheep, this painting has all the hallmarks of a classic, heartwarming nativity scene. If you find yourself charmed by this holiday tableau, the Barnes has plenty more to offer you: This particular painting is just one of the museum’s countless holdings in medieval religious art, which range from illuminated manuscripts to ivory tabernacles. However, if you’re looking for some equally uplifting artwork without the religious connotations, read ahead for our favorite secular picks of the season.


Snowed In by John Socha (1935-1941), Lithograph, 10 3/4 x 14 1/4 in / Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Snowed In, Philadelphia Museum of Art

This mid–century lithograph from American artist John Socha may be black and white, but don’t be fooled: The artist’s depiction of the soft, rolling hills and squat, storybook houses is positively vibrant. Moreover, the portal–like, ethereal mass halfway up on the picture’s right–hand border gives it understated elegance; viewers will surely find themselves whisked away from the doldrums of urban life into the soft, airy outdoors of Socha’s imagination. With all these little details, one can’t help but be soothed by this peaceful landscape, which is regrettably not on display.


"Snow on the Sumida River" from the series Snow, Moon, and Flowers (Setsugekka) by Katsushika Hokusai (1832), Color woodcut, 10 1/4 x 15 3/16 in / Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Snow on the Sumida River, PMA

Well–versed in the ukiyo–e tradition, the master Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai is best known today for his masterpiece, “The Great Wave.”  Yet this humble 1832 woodcut, teeming with charming details, is no less impressive. Of particular note are the two minuscule figures in the top right corner of the piece. Bundled up against the cold, these tiny pedestrians will have viewers jealous of their cozy fur coats and comically large hats. Moreover, the illustration’s earthy color palette and balanced composition (framed by deep blue on either end) will surely leave viewers in awe of Hokusai’s practiced eye. Those yearning for more work from the legendary Edo–era illustrator will be pleased to know that the PMA holds nearly 200 of his works, all available for online browsing. Considering these impressive holdings, readers may be disappointed to find out that the PMA has chosen not to display the artist’s works for its current season. 


Evening Snow Storm by George Bellows (1921), Lithograph, 7 1/4 x 9 3/4 in, Printed by Bolton Brown, American, 1864 - 1936 / Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Evening Snow Storm, PMA

Another black –and–white lithograph, this time by American artist George Bellows, shows a painfully familiar winter scene. Whether you’re Philly native or an East Coast transplant, you’ll likely shudder at any mention of wintertime in the City of Brotherly Love, complete with street slush, freezing winds, and the inevitable snowstorm or two. It seems that Bellows has captured not one but all of these hibernal hallmarks; while the artist was mostly renowned for his extensive paintings, one can’t help but admire this impressive display of his artistic talents. One glance at the dynamic central figures, rushing towards some implied shelter under the assault of a violent snowstorm, will have viewers huddling for warmth. The monochromatic palette only contributes to this masterful illustration’s all–too–familiar air of winter blues. 


Coat by Naskapi Nation, Barren Ground Band, Caribou hide and paint, Object © Penn Museum 2020, Philadelphia / Photo courtesy of the Penn Museum.

First Nations Caribou Coat, Penn Museum

That’s right—long before the advent of luxury winter wear, Canada’s First Nations braved freezing temperatures with the aid of traditional, cold–resistant garments. This piece will leave viewers not just in awe of its meticulous fringe detailing, but with an appreciation for the time–honored techniques that indigenous peoples perfected over centuries to thrive in some of the planet’s most inhospitable places. This piece is just one of many such garments available at the Penn Museum; for readers fed up with on–campus luxury consumerism, what better way to pop the Penn bubble than to explore more of these oft–overlooked pieces of our continent’s history?

All these works are just a taste of the vast selection of art available in the Philly area, all a short SEPTA ride away from Penn’s borders. So if staying on campus all semester has given you cabin fever, remember to look beyond the university’s horizons for some much–needed holiday cheer. 


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