George Sotter: Silent Night

Curatorial Voice

Singing with Sotter

George Sotter made dozens, maybe hundreds, of night paintings. They tend to have the same elements: a rich, blue-black palette, a house or barn with trees nearby. Nearly always a light is on in the house, as if someone couldn’t go to sleep and is reading by candlelight. The house is dark, but there’s life inside.

Sometimes I wonder if Sotter had a recipe for night paintings and after a while they all start to taste the same. But Silent Night is special. Maybe it’s the simplicity. The stone farmhouse rests on a snowy plain, a few stars above, a single tree in the foreground. The tree seems to wave slowly in an invisible wind, and the curved branches reach upward, almost, but not quite, touching the stars. There’s something sacred about this picture: a sacred calm, a quiet yearning for the unreachable.

The first time Silent Night graced our walls was in 2002. One day I was walking through the galleries, and a docent stopped me and said, “Brian, did you know about the singing?” During a tour of the gallery, she had paused in front of the Sotter and talked for a minute or two about the painting and its title. Suddenly someone started singing, and soon the rest of the group joined in: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. . . .” I walked back to my office with a big smile on my face. A painting that makes people want to sing. Amazing!

George Sotter (1879-1953), Silent Night, ca. 1932, oil on canvas, H. 36 x W. 40 inches. Collection of Carol and Louis Della Penna.

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