Norman Rockwell's Art Chronicles Lives of Ordinary People


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Tour of his work visiting cities throughout America

One of the most popular American artists of the past century, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was a keen observer of human nature and a gifted storyteller. For nearly seven decades, while history was in the making all around him, Rockwell chronicled our changing society in the small details and nuanced scenes of ordinary people in everyday life, providing a personalized interpretation—albeit often an idealized one—of American identity.

His depictions offered a reassuring visual haven during a time of momentous transformation as our country evolved into a complex, modern society. Rockwell’s contributions to our visual legacy, many of them now icons of American culture, have found a permanent place in our national psyche.

A travel tour of Rockwell’s most loved art can be seen here:

  • Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas March 9, 2013 – May 28, 2013
  • Frist Center for the Visual Arts, Nashville, Tennessee November 1, 2013 – February 9, 2014
  • Brigham Young University Museum of Art, Provo, Utah November 19, 2015 – February 13, 2016.

Painting- The Rookie by Norman Rockwell The Rookie, one of many Saturday Evening Post covers.

Norman Rockwell produced over 4,000 original works in his lifetime. Most of his works are either in public collections, or have been destroyed in fire or other misfortunes.

Rockwell's work was dismissed by serious art critics in his lifetime. Many of his works appear overly sweet in modern critics' eyes, especially The Saturday Evening Post covers, which tend toward idealistic or sentimentalized portrayals of American life – this has led to the often-deprecatory adjective "Rockwellesque." Consequently, Rockwell is not considered a "serious painter" by some contemporary artists, who often regard his work as bourgeois and kitsch.

He is called an "illustrator" instead of an artist by some critics, a designation he did not mind, as it was what he called himself.  However, in his later years, Rockwell began receiving more attention as a painter when he chose more serious subjects such as the series on racism for Look magazine.

One example of this more serious work is "The Problem We All Live With," (see article illustration above) which dealt with the issue of school racial integration. The painting depicts a young African American girl, Ruby Bridges, flanked by white federal marshals, walking to school past a wall defaced by racist graffiti. In 1999, The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl said of Rockwell in ArtNews: “Rockwell is terrific. It’s become too tedious to pretend he isn’t.”

Rockwell's work was exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2001. Rockwell's "Breaking Home Ties" sold for $15.4 million at a 2006 Sotheby's auction.

File:Freedom of Worship.jpgIn 1943, during World War II, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms series, which was completed in seven months and resulted in his losing 15 pounds. The series was inspired by a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which he described four principles for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship (pictured at left), and Freedom from Fear.

The paintings were published in 1943 by The Saturday Evening Post. The United States Department of the Treasury later promoted war bonds by exhibiting the originals in 16 cities. Rockwell himself considered "Freedom of Speech" to be the best of the four.

During his long career, he was commissioned to paint the portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, as well as those of foreign figures, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru. One of his last works was a portrait of Judy Garland in 1969.

A custodianship of his original paintings and drawings was established with Rockwell's help near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the Norman Rockwell Museum is still open today year round. The museum's collection is the world's largest, including more than 700 original Rockwell paintings, drawings, and studies. The Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies at the Norman Rockwell Museum is a national research institute dedicated to American illustration art.

Rockwell's influence on popular culture

In the film Empire of the Sun, a young boy (played by Christian Bale) is put to bed by his loving parents in a scene also inspired by a Rockwell painting—a reproduction of which is later kept by the young boy during his captivity in a prison camp ("Freedom from Fear", 1943).

The 1994 film Forrest Gump includes a shot in a school that re-creates Rockwell's "Girl with Black Eye" with young Forrest in place of the girl. Much of the film drew heavy visual inspiration from Rockwell's art.

Film director George Lucas owns Rockwell's original of "The Peach Crop," and his colleague Steven Spielberg owns a sketch of Rockwell's "Triple Self-Portrait."  Each of the artworks hangs in the respective filmmaker's workspace. Rockwell is a major character in an episode of Lucas’ Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, “Passion for Life.”



Visit your local library for these resources:

The Norman Rockwell Treasury
Thomas S Buechner, (1992).

Norman Rockwell: 332 Magazine Covers
Christopher Finch, (2005 edition).

Norman Rockwell's America
Christopher Finch, (1985).

Norman Rockwell: Storyteller with a Brush
Beverly Gherman, (2000).

Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People
Maureen Hart Hennessey, Judy L.Larson, (1999).

Best of Norman Rockwell
Tom Rockwell, (2005).

Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera
Ron Schick, (2009).




Beyond the Easel, 1969 calendar


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