Warner Sallman was born on April 30, 1892, in Chicago. He became interested in art at an early age, and was especially impacted by the religious art of Gustave Dore. Following graduation from high school, he apprenticed in local studios while attending the Chicago Art Institute. After a brief attempt to establish himself in New York, Sallman returned to Chicago and began his career as a commercial artist.
Through the encouragement of a business associate, Sallman enrolled at a Bible school. Sallman recalled a conversation with the dean of the school, Dr. E. O. Sellers, which had an impact on his image of Christ. The dean said, “Sometime I hope you give us your conception of Christ. And I hope it’s a manly one. Most of our pictures today are too effeminate.”
In 1924, Sallman produced a sketch for a magazine cover that portrayed a strong yet serene image of Jesus. This sketch was the basis of what would become Sallman’s most recognizable painting, the Head of Christ, which has been reproduced an estimated 500 million times.
He once said of his work, “I give God the glory for whatever has been accomplished by my efforts to bring joy and happiness to people throughout the world.”
Sallman died in 1968.