Joseph Harry Anderson (1906–1996) began his first commission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1963, toward the end of his long artistic career. His work for the LDS church includes nearly 30 paintings that have become iconic Latter-day Saint images. This exhibit features 25 preliminary sketches (paint studies) created by Anderson as preparatory work for his finished paintings. These studies shed new light and perspective on Anderson’s work and on the familiar and beloved scenes he painted from Christ’s life.
The Paint Studies of Harry Anderson gallery exhibit will be open at the Church History Museum through April 2017 and is accompanied by this permanent online exhibit featuring images and details of all of the same artwork on display at the museum.
Before completing the finished paintings, Anderson first created detailed, colored studies for the paintings. The studies, painted with casein, were presented to Church representatives for review and approval.
While major changes were rarely requested, the finished oil paintings show that Anderson made some minor alterations after the studies were reviewed. For example, in the margin of the study for Behold My Hands and Feet, he jotted a note reminding himself to remove a person from the background.
The studies show how Anderson created the finished oil paintings from the casein studies. He overlaid a string grid on a completed study. Then he penciled an enlarged grid on a canvas. By using the two grids, he was able to transfer the image from the study to the final canvas. One of the studies, The Ascension #2, shows a complete set of strings still in place.
In creating the paint studies, Anderson used a much looser brush style and brighter colors than on the finished oil paintings.
Click the detail images above to see the full painting.
Harry Anderson’s legacy as an artist of religious subjects began after he and his wife, Ruth, joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1943. As a devout Adventist, Anderson painted hundreds of illustrations for his church. He considered this work to be part of his personal ministry.
In 1963, Anderson’s reputation as an artist of religious subjects drew the attention of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church was constructing a pavilion for the 1964 New York World’s Fair and needed a large oil painting of the Savior for the main entrance. Anderson, already known for his images of the Savior, was commissioned to paint Christ Ordaining the Twelve Apostles. Thereafter, Anderson found a steady religious art patron in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Beginning in the mid-1960s, the Church commissioned Harry Anderson to create paintings for a new visitors’ center on Temple Square. He first completed four large paintings of Old Testament scenes. He then produced smaller easel-sized paintings of stories from the life of Christ, which were copied and enlarged by local artist Grant Romney Clawson.
Anderson’s paintings have been reproduced in numerous Latter-day Saint publications, and they decorate almost every Latter-day Saint meetinghouse, visitors’ center, and temple around the world. His depictions of Christ are especially beloved, with a widespread, powerful appeal.
When Harry, who was a devout Seventh-day Adventist, was asked about Mormons using his images as missionary tools, he said, “I think that when anybody is introduced to Christ, no matter what their faith is, it is a step in the right direction. When people who don’t know Him at all are introduced to Him and find out what He was like and what He did for them, it satisfies me that my painting was done for somebody’s advantage.”
In 1931, Harry Anderson graduated with honors from the Syracuse School of Art in New York and began his career when the Great Depression gripped the country. He worked for over 50 years as a freelance artist for major magazines such as Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and The Saturday Evening Post, as well as for major businesses. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators 1994 Hall of Fame, joining such notables as Norman Rockwell and N. C. Wyeth.
Harry Anderson’s work can be found in many locations on Temple Square:
1. Church History Museum. Anderson’s paint studies will be on display at the Museum from September 2016 through April 2017. The exhibit gallery at the Church History Museum also includes a digital panel where visitors can compare Anderson’s paint studies with his finished paintings, and an art drawing and coloring kiosk for children and families.
2. North Visitors’ Center. Four of Anderson’s original paintings and several mural enlargements of his work by Grant Romney Clawson can be found here.
3. Church Office Building. The 66 foot mural on the east wall of the ground floor lobby is Grant Romney Clawson’s enlargement of Harry Anderson’s original Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations.
4. South Visitors’ Center. Some of Anderson’s paintings are in the Salt Lake Temple. If you look closely, you can find them in the model of the Temple at the South Visitors’ Center.