The Warner Sallman Collection

Head of Christ

Head of Christ

Head of ChristHead of Christ, Warner Sallman, 1941

Editor’s Note:  The following is an excerpt from a 1994 exhibition catalogue by Dr. David Morgan, Department of Art, Valparaiso University. Used with permission. Sallman images copyrighted by Warner Press, Inc. Used with permission.

By far the most popular of Sallman’s pictures, the Head of Christ has been reproduced more than 500 million times according to its publishers (Kriebel & Bates). Anthony Kriebel and Fred Bates, employees of the Gospel Trumpet Company of Anderson, Ind., arranged to market the image late in 1940. Reproductions subsequently carried their imprimatur and the copyright date of 1941. Chicago Offset Printing Company printed the image in a six-color separation lithographic process that preserved what many admirers consider unique about the picture: its radiant, incandescent glow. During the years of the Second World War, one press at Chicago Offset continuously printed the Head of Christ under the operation of two shifts of laborers.

In a document written in 1945, the publishers indicate that by the previous year a total of 14 million single pictures had been printed. One run of the image, which required three to four weeks to complete from start to finish, consisted of 5,000 sheets and included a variety of sizes of the Head of Christ, ranging from 20 x 16 to 3 ½ x 2 ½ inches. Several runs were already completed in 1941. By 1944, the market supported increasing the size of individual prints to 40 x 30 inches for large images to be used in public spaces such as churches and YMCAs.

The image was marketed in an inexpensively framed format; as cards bearing devotional texts; and on greeting cards, church bulletins, clocks, lamps, buttons, and funeral announcements to name only a few examples. Sales catalogs and promotional literature advertised Sallman’s principal paintings each year. The Head of Christ became the virtual trademark of Kriebel & Bates and so quickly found public acceptance that the publishers encouraged Sallman to use the head as frequently as possible in other depictions of Christ. The artist complied by duplicating the head in other images, rotating it to reveal more of the face, and reversing it as in Christ Our Pilot.

One admirer of the Head of Christ wrote the following about its meaning to her:

There is something about Warner Sallman’s pictures that makes me feel … that this artist had felt Christ’s presence when he made the images … and you can feel Christ’s presence … conveyed … to you through his images. From the image of the head of Christ I see righteousness, strength, power, reverence, respect, fairness, faithfulness, love, compassion. From the way the hair in the image is highlighted in the back and highlights around the front of the head and face there seems to be a holy radiance emitted from the image, depicting the qualities mentioned above. (Correspondence file, Sallman Archives, Anderson University)

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