You're looking at Haddon Sundblom's last Santa (or should I say... 'Santa's little helper'...?) In fact, this was Sunny's last commercial assignment, painted when he was 71 years old, for the cover of that other Chicago institution, Playboy magazine.
You'd think that Playboy and Haddon Sundblom would have had a long, ongoing working relationship, but I checked with Aaron Baker, the curator of paintings for Playboy Enterprises Inc. Aaron wrote back, "Our art director, Art Paul, wanted a sexy take on Sundblom's classic Coca-Cola Santa Claus illustration. To my knowledge, he did not do any other work for us."
Sundblom seems like a natural for the pin-up genre. In the book, "The Great American Pin-Up", co-author Charles Martignette wrote about how, during and after WWII, many American companies employed pin-ups in their ad campaigns. "Coca-Cola was the largest of such companies to feature pin-ups prominently," wrote Martignette. And of course Haddon Sundblom was one of Coke's most prolific illustrators. Between Sunny and his many talented apprentices, Coca-Cola had a ready stable of some of the finest illustrators of the genre at their disposal.
"The Sundblom Circle," as this group of illustrators came to be known, included many of the most prominent artists of the contemporary pin-up scene: Gil Elvgren, Joyce Ballantyne, Thornton Utz, Al Buell and Al Moore are only a few of the many artists who learned their craft at Sunny's easel. Some, like Elvgren, went on to make pin-up art their dedicated specialty. When you look at pin-up art from the mid-century period the Sundblom style seems to be everywhere! But Sundblom himself did relatively few pin-ups.
No doubt, with so many steady advertising accounts - Coke, Palmolive Soap, Colgate Toothpaste, Maxwell House Coffee, Aunt Jemima Pancakes, just to name a few - Sunny had his hands full all of the time with tremendously lucrative work. Fans of the genre, like myself, would certainly love it if there were more Haddon Sundblom pin-up pieces like the ones seen here today.
We can take some comfort in the knowledge that, as Charles Martignette wrote, "Sundblom is recognized today as the inspiration behind the best pin-up and glamour artists from the 1930s through the 1960s."
* The Haddon Sundblom original at the top of this post is up for auction right now at Heritage Auctions. Thanks to Heritage for allowing me to use their scans of this piece.
* Thanks to Aaron Baker of Playboy Enterprises Inc. for his assistance with the information on Haddon Sundblom's December 1972 cover for the magazine.
* The last two images in this post are from the book, "The Great American Pin-Up", co-authored by Charles Martignette and Louis K. Meisel, © 2009 Taschen GmbH