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Swedish Artist Created Classic Santa

Classic Elvish Santa image created by Jenny Nystrom.
Classic Elvish Santa image created by Jenny Nystrom.
Jenny Nystrom

As Americans were just getting used to the red and white clad jolly old elf depictions being made famous by Thomas Nast and the new Hallmark Greeting cards, in Sweden a young lady was creating her image of what Santa might look like. Her name was Jenny Nystrom and her work would win her a place in Christmas lore forever.

Born in Kalmar, Sweden, in 1854, Jenny would go on to become an accomplished painter and illustrator. When Viktor Rydberg wrote a story entitled “Little Vigg’s Adventures on Christmas Eve” she created illustrations of Santa (Juletomte) for the story. After initially being declined, the product was taken in 1871 to S.A. Hedlund Publishing who immediately published the work. It has since become a classic Christmas tale in Sweden thanks largely to the colorful illustrations of Nystrom. She would go on to become Sweden’s busiest illustrator and artist, with her works being distributed by Stralin and Perrson AC.

Before Nystrom, the figure of the Christmas gift giver had been confined in European minds to the old fellow in hooded robes or bishop attire. Jenny’s illustrations went so far as to make Santa a part of the folk culture of gnomes and elves that are a part of Sweden. Thus her Santa took on the same kind of following as did Thomas Nast’s in America. Often accompanying her Santa was a cherub-faced child, usually modeled by her son. This further enhanced the loving nature of not only her Santa, but also set a tone for her work.

Nystrom passed away in 1946, but her works live on. Reprints of her Santa are still around and are quite popular. They can still be seen in books and on documentaries of the Season. Thus, Jenny Nystrom has won a place in the history and hearts of all who love Santa Claus as she brought new life to the classic European images of Santa that lasts until this very day.