Warner Sallman

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The Head of Christ (1941) Warner Sallman

Warner Sallman (April 30, 1892 – May 25, 1968) was a Christian painter from Chicago. He created commercial advertising images and worked as a freelance illustrator.[1] He is most associated with his portrait, The Head of Christ of which more than 500 million copies have been sold.[2][3] In 1994, the New York Times wrote he is likely to be voted the "best-known artist of the century".[4]


Warner Elias Sallman was the eldest of three children born to Elias Sallman and Christiane (Larson) Sallman who were immigrants from Finland and Sweden. He trained by apprenticing in local studios while attending the Chicago Art Institute at night. There he became a protégé of Walter Marshall Cluett, a newspaper illustrator noted for his work during the Spanish American War. He initially was affiliated with local studios until he opened his own. In 1916 he married Ruth Anderson, whom he met while both were singing in the church choir.[5]

Origins of The Head of Christ[edit]

The Head of Christ originated as a charcoal sketch entitled The Son of Man done in 1924 and sold to be the cover of the Covenant Companion, the denominational magazine for the Evangelical Covenant Church. He did several variations of the painting over the years, and the first oil version was done in 1935 for the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the Evangelical Covenant Church. In 1940 he was asked to reproduce that painting by the students of North Park Theological Seminary. This reproduction was seen by representatives of the Gospel Trumpet Company, the publishing arm of the Church of God (Anderson), who created a new company called Kriebel and Bates to market Sallman's work. For the next thirty years Kriebel and Bates marketed over 100 Warner Sallman works. When Kriebel and Bates dissolved, the copyrights to these works were acquired by Warner Press. The Baptist Bookstore initially popularized the painting, distributing various sized lithographic images for sale throughout the southern United States. The Salvation Army and the YMCA, as members of the USO, handed out pocket-sized versions of the painting to American servicemen heading overseas during World War II. After the war, groups in Oklahoma and Indiana conducted campaigns to distribute the image into private and public spaces. One Lutheran organizer in Illinois "said that there ought to be 'card-carrying Christians' to counter the effect of 'card-carrying Communists."[6]

Other works[edit]

Sallman is also well known for his rendition of the popular image Christ at Heart's Door. Other popular images produced from 1942 to 1950 include Christ in Gethsemane, The Lord is My Shepherd, and Christ Our Pilot.

The vast collection of his original works, including The Head of Christ, is owned by Anderson University. Warner Press, the publishing arm of the Church of God in Anderson, Indiana holds the copyright and distribution rights to all Warner Sallman images.[7]

Sallman also created a lesser known work called, "The Ascension of Christ". The painting is owned by and located in the First Covenant Church, Iron Mountain, Michigan. It measures 20 feet wide by 23 feet high. The painting was done in one of the large meeting rooms on the campus of North Park College (now University) in Chicago and shipped in two large rolls to Iron Mountain where it was installed by the men of the church on the wall above the choir loft. Mr. Sallman came to Iron Mountain to put finishing touches on the painting and attend the dedication at First Covenant Church in May, 1952. It is believed to be the largest painting done by the artist.

Mr. Sallman named the eleven apostles in the painting (from left to right) James, the lesser; Philip; Matthew; Thaddeus; James, the elder, son of Zebedee; Thomas, the doubter; John, brother of James; Andrew, brother of Simon Peter; Simon Peter, now shepherd of the flock; Simon, the Zealot; Bartholomew. It is noted that the full figure of Christ can be seen from any elevation as one enters the church.[8]

Related Reading[edit]

  • Lundbom, Jack R. Master Painter: Warner E. Sallman (Mercer University Press. 1999)
  • Morgan, David Icons of American Protestantism: The Art of Warner Sallman (Yale University Press. 1996)
  • Peterson, Sylvia E and Warner Sallman Story of Sallman's The Lord's Supper (Kriebel & Bates/Prt by Warner Press. 1950)


  1. ^ Todd, Jesse T. "Warner Sallman's Head of Christ". Warner Sallman's Jesus. Drew University. Archived from the original on 2005-09-03. Retrieved 2006-08-27. 
  2. ^ Have You Seen This Man?, Art, Newsweek, July 2/July 9, 2007, p. 68 (The brief column replied to the title-question by saying "Probably, and looking exactly like this. Warner Sallman's 1940 oil painting The Head of Christ is believed to be the most reproduced religious work of art. It's been copied a billion times, if you include lamps, clocks and calendars.")
  3. ^ Mehegan, David (2004-01-17). "Personal Jesus". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2006-08-27. 
  4. ^ Grimes, William (12 October 1994). "The Man Who Rendered Jesus For the Age of Duplication". The New York Times. p. 13. 
  5. ^ Tribute to Warner Sallman
  6. ^ Morgan, David (Summer 2006). "The face that's everywhere". Christian History & Biography (Christianity Today International) (91): 11. 
  7. ^ "Warner Sallman Collection". Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  8. ^ (125th Anniversary 1882-2007, First Covenant Church of Iron Mountain, Michigan. Booklet) 

External links[edit]