Four Decades of Love Captured in Christmas Portraits from 1900 to 1942

Every year, as the holiday season approaches, we indulge in the age-old tradition of sending out Christmas cards to our loved ones. But have you ever considered the potential of these cards to capture moments in time, to tell a tale that spans decades? Today, let’s step into the charming world of Richard and Anna Wagner, a couple from Berlin, who left behind an extraordinary series of Christmas portraits that trace their lives from 1900 to 1942.

A Love Story in Portraits

Richard and Anna Wagner began their endearing tradition in 1900, the year of their marriage. On every Christmas Eve, they would pose in front of their festively decorated tree, their smiles radiating warmth and love. These images, meant as holiday greetings for their friends, have inadvertently become a fascinating time capsule for us, offering an insight into the lives of an ordinary couple living through extraordinary times.

Changing Faces, Changing Times

As we look through these images, spanning over four decades, we see not only the couple’s physical transformation – their youthful faces gently aging, hair thinning, bodies filling and slimming – but also the shifting world around them.

In 1915, a map prominently displayed in the background speaks of the World War that was ravaging Europe. Their 1917 portrait, featuring overcoats and a written note, tells a silent story of a harsh winter made worse by a coal shortage.

But it wasn’t all grim. The arrival of an electric vacuum cleaner in their 1927 photograph serves as a delightful testament to progress and changing lifestyle, marking the time when the Wagners welcomed electricity into their home.

The Last Portrait

Their annual tradition came to a poignant end in 1942 with their last photograph. In this image, we see a much older Richard and Anna, their smiles as warm as ever, but with a hint of melancholy. Anna passed away three years later in 1945, and Richard died just before Christmas in 1950.

Wagner’s unique collection was discovered in an attic in former East Berlin, half a century after they had taken their last photograph together. Today, these pictures stand as an intimate chronicle of a couple’s love story and as a testament to the enduring spirit of humanity in the face of changing times.

#1 The first card shows the young and newly married couple – Richard sports a silver topped cane and Anna lift up Meitz, her cat, to show him the various gifts they have received. The house is sparsely decorated but comfortable.

#3 By 1912 their material wealth has increased, as have their waistlines. Richard now sits at the desk as Anna tidies around him.

#4 A map is included in the 1915 picture to show the advances of the German Troops in the Great War.

#5 By 1917, the fortunes of the War have been reversed, and Anna and Richard are in their overcoats, signaling the lack of winter fuel.

#6 In 1927, Richard begins to wear glasses and is hair is showing signs of grey. Anna’s Christmas present for that year is a vacuum cleaner – electricity has been installed.

#7 1935 is a frugal year and Richard begins to look older.

#8 By 1942, both have gone completely grey and are again wearing their winter coats. The final picture in the series shows Anna all alone – no tree, no presents. Richard had died in August of that year. And even though Anna lived another five years, the series stops here.

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Written by Sarah Johnson

Sarah Johnson is a freelance writer and photographer with a passion for exploring the world. Her writing is both informative and engaging, offering unique perspectives on travel, food, and lifestyle.

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