The following is by Mary Moline. She is the author of the Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia
, the first chronological catalog of the artist's work, published in 1978 by The Curtis Publishing Company and author of six editions of the Norman Rockwell Collectibles Value Guide.
Mr. Rockwell began his illustrious career with immediate success when he painted Christmas cards, for his first commission, at age sixteen, and illustrated his first book one year later. Aglow with success, the determined young man signed his name in blood, swearing never to do advertising jobs. He kept that promise until his first known advertisement for H. J. Heinz Company, Pork'n Beans, appeared in the 1914 edition of the Boy Scout Handbook
.The first advertisement by Norman Rockwell to appear in The Saturday Evening Post
was January 13, 1917. His first Post cover was published on May 20, 1916.
Much of Rockwell's prodigious output was painted for magazine reproduction and never intended to provide enduring examples of his work. Due to his own technique of using a special compound between layers of paint, some of his originals have yellowed with age, but the aging hasn't diminished his popularity nor the demand for "anything Rockwell."
After many years of being scorned as an unworthy imitator, Norman Rockwell's human interpretation of the American scene survived the criticism of art connoisseurs. His work was revered, year after year on magazine covers by two generations of Rockwell watchers: Those who recalled and those too young to remember.
Although Norman Rockwell, himself, eventually became as recognizable as one of his illustrations, such recognition was too little and very late. His first photograph accompanied illustrations in a 1914 Boys' Life
magazine, but few biographical sketches appeared prior to 1945. The Saturday Evening Post
first printed information about Rockwell in 1926, ten years and 82 covers after their association began.
Rockwell made no secret of his lifetime preference for countrified realism-- "Things happen in the country, but you don't see them. In the city you are constantly confronted by unpleasantness. I find it sordid and unsettling."
He believed the time he spent in the countryside was a great influence on his idyllic approach to storytelling on canvas. Though Rockwell was unrepentant about his rural preference, he was surprisingly charitable toward contemporaries who shunned his technique in favor of modern art.
Perhaps the most provocative opinion on Rockwell's work was expressed in a November 13,1970 issue of Life
magazine. When the editors brought the dilemma of Rockwell's art popularity and lack of recognition, to their reading public in a one page article, posing the question: "If We All Like It Is It Art?" Their readers promptly responded.
The resulting action from ordinary people around the world created the first -man art revolution in America, far surpassing Currier and Ives. A few months later, the first Norman Rockwell plate, The Family Tree,
was fired; the Rockwell Revolution had started, and the first of millions of collectibles were offered to Rockwell loving minions. It was then that author, Thomas Buechner and publisher, Harry Abrams moved Rockwell out of the closet, and onto the world's coffee tables. The rest is art history.
By 1978, at the height of his popularity, and the year of his death, forty books and 140 articles chronicling Rockwell's accomplishments had appeared in over 56 publications.
The following, courtesy of Mary Moline, is from her book titled The Letter,
a limited edition book written by Mary Moline
The First Half of "The Letter"
When my lawyer learned I had discovered an unpublished, unknown, original Norman Rockwell painting, he said, "Although he's been gone since 1978, and after all the great books and dolls you created that promoted his art, it's about time Norman Rockwell did something nice for you."
His response surprised me, because I never thought I was doing anything to help Mr. Rockwell; just loved his work. In my opinion he was, after all, heir apparent to the throne of most loved of American artists.
I first began to appreciate Mr. Rockwell's art at the age of ten when I delivered the Saturday Evening Post
to subscribers in the West Virginia Hills, near Morgantown. That love affair followed me into adulthood. It was love at first sight, and it continues. I've never stopped researching the man and his art, not even after recognition for my efforts with a notation in one of author, Thomas Rockwell's books, when he referred to me as, "The first and best Norman Rockwell scholar."
Looking back to the day I purchased the unrecorded, unknown painting, I named, "The Letter," I felt somewhat in awe to have found an original piece of art so personal and revealing of the reclusive Rockwell's first marriage. It wasn't the new ownership that created the euphoria; it was the process of the discovery, the revelation of the painting's existence. The delicate, innocent, unearthing of a treasure that contained a provocative, poignant, very private glimpse into Mr. Rockwell's personal life is what I saw in the painting that made the experience awesome. It was a moment not unlike that of a diver when he discovers a relic, long buried in the shifting sands of the sea.
On December 3, 1989, while I was in the process of researching my seventh book on the subject of the reproductions of Mr. Rockwell's art, I discovered an unopened letter, from the "Rue de Lamar Gallery," Austin,Texas. The aged envelope was postmarked, September 19, 1978. I looked at the date in disbelief. I had not seen the envelope before. I turned it over and over; surprised it could have been in my possession for eleven years, and never opened.
I paused before I opened the envelope, and tried to recall where I was on September 19, 1978. The answer was easy. I had just moved into my new home in the marina in San Francisco, away from a twenty-two year marriage. In my own moment of darkness, I didn't open a lot of mail forwarded to me in those days. I often slipped unwanted reminders of my past into books, to be opened later. As fate would have it eleven years later, but fate wasn't finished with "The Letter" or me.
I continued to live in that home in San Francisco throughout the eleven years until an earthquake in 1989 shook it to the point of collapse. A few days after the earthquake, I was permitted to return to the leaning building for fifteen minutes to retrieve small items and important papers. Among the papers and books I carried away, that day, was the book that had secreted "The Letter" all those years.
As I looked back upon the moment I found the envelope, I realized the magical experience was etched in my mind. I vividly recalled sitting on the floor of my empty, temporary home to open the envelope. Inside I found a one-page letter and two yellowing photographs. The handwritten letter dated Sept. 18, 1978, stated, "I am enclosing two photographs of an oil illustration painted by Norman Rockwell, possibly as far back as thirty-five to forty years ago. Do you know of any reproductions of this? If so I'd be very interested in purchasing it. Have you seen or do you know this picture in any of your books? If so, please call me collect at area code 512-451-4822. I will in turn send a check for the book, reproduction or what ever. Thank you kindly. Sincerely yours, Mrs. M. McCarthey, Rue de Lamar Gallery, Austin, Texas."
I examined the photos in the warm sunlight; and knew instantly, only Rockwell could create the pathos of such a lonely man, with a cat, dirty dishes, a forlorn face and a very legible letter. There was no doubt that it was indeed a signed, very old, Norman Rockwell oil, on canvas, but a "Rockwell I had never seen in my lifetime of examining Rockwell paintings. A painting unlike any other, because this was about Him.
I had to remind myself, I was the author of the Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia
, the first chronological listing, with thousands of photos of all known published works of the artist. The research for that book required more than six years of devoted, eye straining effort and hundreds of trips to library basements around the world, in search of magazine illustrations and advertisements. In the early 1970's there were precious few card catalog references to Norman Rockwell.
Was it coincidence that the year my book, the first cataloging of Mr. Rockwell's work, The Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia
, was published, by the Saturday Evening Post
, the same year Mr. Rockwell died; and, at the same time I received the message of the existence of his unknown Rockwell work of art? There is a word for such happenings; was this serendipity, coincidence or was my attorney right?
My immediate reaction was to call the owner of the Rue de Lamar Gallery in Austin, to apologize for not responding sooner. I gave no consideration to the eleven years that had passed. I dialed the number on the letterhead. Gallery at this number."
The excitement drained from my body. I felt sad. Perhaps the voice on the other end realized my disappointment. "What's the name of the person you're trying to locate? Maybe they're still in the area. I'll look the number up for you up for you."
I gave him the name of the lady who had written the letter, and sure enough, she was still listed. I dialed her number and she answered the telephone. I told her who I was and why I was calling. She knew who I was. She seemed a tad upset.
She confessed to going through great effort to locate me. "I needed to know, eleven years ago, what a Rockwell painting was worth." She told me. I offered my apologies. She spoke of her husband's death and the subsequent closing of the gallery. We laughed at the turn of events. Then she abruptly changed her tone and asked if she could return my call. I assured her, "It's not necessary to call me back. I just wanted to let you know I was sorry I lost your letter for eleven years."
She insisted I give her my number so she could call me back. To my surprise, she did call back. "I couldn't talk with you because there was someone here and I didn't want them to know about the painting. I need to talk with you, now, because it's important for you to know I trust you, and want to tell you that I still have the painting. Would you like to buy it?"
She surprised me; or, perhaps I surprised myself when I realized that as much as I loved Norman Rockwell's work, I had honestly never wanted to possess it. Deep, down, in my heart of hearts, I knew I would never be able to afford an original Rockwell. Those were the words I heard myself expressing to the lady on the telephone.
She must have sensed my hesitation; she began to cry, "I have just had open-heart surgery. The doctors are demanding to be paid, and I need money, now." She told me she had very little money, but she did have some fine paintings left after closing the gallery.
The amount she wanted for the Rockwell was reasonable, but I still hesitated. I simply had just never, ever, contemplated owning an original Rockwell painting. Such a purchase, in my mind, was akin to getting married: a commitment.
As gently as I could, I told her, "I will have to think it over."
When she sobbed, "I will accept payments if you don't have the money now." I felt burdened. I assured her it wasn't the price of the painting that made me hesitate. I tried to explain to her that it was just something I had never, in my wildest dreams imagined I would ever be able to afford. I told her. "I'll make some calls to see if any of my friends would like to buy it. I'll call you back in an hour."
I sat on the floor and studied the snapshots. The painting was indeed a Rockwell, a very, very, early Rockwell. I looked at the clock. It was too late to call the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. I thought they might want to buy the painting because of its uniqueness, but then reasoned they would probably have to have a lot of meetings and discussions and appraisals and time-wasting delays. The lady in Austin needed the money now.
Next I called Mike Cluff, in Cambria, just up old Highway One a few miles. He owned a popular fine art gallery that specialized in Norman Rockwell original art. He did not answer his telephone. I paced the floor and imagined I had bought the painting. What I realized during the soul-searching was that this windfall made me feel as though I had become involved in a taunting temptation. I didn't feel right about it. It seemed as though I was taking advantage of a desperate situation. I tried to examine my true feelings, and the reason for my hesitation. I kept asking myself, "Why me, why now, just when my life has fallen apart?" Finally, I concluded: If the painting hadn't been dropped into my lap, I never would have sought it out.
I do believe there is no such thing as an accident. Things do have a way of happening for a reason. I began to change my mind. I reasoned that the unopened envelope was misplaced for eleven years, because I could not have afforded the painting in 1978. I could afford it now, in 1989; or, I argued with myself; I was being given a second chance.
I telephoned the lady. "I've decided to fly down to Austin in the morning and examine the painting. If it's in good condition, I will buy it." She wept. The long sobbing silence was broken when she offered, "It won't be necessary for you to fly all the way down here. The painting is in a sturdy wooden carrying case. I'll have it put on an airplane tomorrow morning; you will have it tomorrow afternoon." I felt reassured when she mentioned the wooden carrying case. Mr. Rockwell was known to carry his work down to the Saturday Evening Post
in such a wooden case with a carrying handle. I didn't say anything. As I tried to imagine the legal details of the important transaction, my mind whirred.
Then she added. "If you like the painting, and I know you will, you can send me a cashier's check for the amount we agreed. "As planned, the large, flat wooden case with a metal carrying handle arrived at the airport. Within hours of opening the case I wired the trusting woman the full payment.
A few days later I received a bill of sale and a bundle of documents. The papers included an official appraisal by a lettered member of the International Institute of Valuers, dated 13.IX.85 (9/13/1985) and the name of the auction house in New York City, Teppers Auction House where the painting was auctioned in 1978, the year Mr. Rockwell died. I felt as though I had discovered a lost child and had returned him to his parents, but in reality whoever held the painting closeted all those years, perhaps now felt free enough to set the painting free.
I finally reached Mike Cluff, who upon seeing the painting, shook his head from side to side and repeated, "I can't believe it. I can't believe it! I can't believe I am witnessing this moment of Rockwell history. Then he told me, "I knew there was a lady in Texas who had a Rockwell for sale, but I never followed up on her. If I had, I would be the lucky owner of this fabulous work of art today."
Because I could no longer live in my earth-quaked home in San Francisco, I had already made plans to travel by freighter, to an island off the coast of Australia to write a novel. My plan was to travel to Tasmania, but the painting needed looking after, It required insurance, security, and a home with temperature controls. It too needed roots, and because of the earthquake my roots had been badly shaken.
Mike Cluff offered to place the painting on display in his secure gallery vault. The newspapers wrote about the discovery. The television crews photographed the canvas with its forlorn story in oil. It was December 1989. CNN came to the Cambria gallery to film the 'finding' as a special Christmas Story
, "A New Rockwell, The Letter
CNN was intrigued with the painting's discovery. The special story was shown around the world and repeated over and over between 1990 and 1991. Hundreds of Rockwell enthusiasts and collectors made the trip up the California Coast to view the celebrated discovery. I sailed to Tasmania, wrote the novel, and by accident, caught a CNN repeat, of the Christmas special while I waited for my flight home at the airport in Auckland, New Zealand, on my return, four months later.
The entire episode could have been a dream, but it wasn't.
Now, I want to tell you the rest of the story.
Part Two: The Rest of the Story
Until now I have purposely not filled your imagination with visions of the painting. The illustration, according to Norman Rockwell's own words, will speak for itself. This is an art historian's interpretation of how the painting served to help Norman Rockwell over come a painful moment in his young life.The Letter
is signed within the body in the upper right hand corner, in block letters. Rockwell often changed his signature because he couldn't decide what his signature should look like. He tried several signatures and often varied his signings. Mr. Rockwell was known to fuss a lot about the way he signed or didn't sign his work. As he matured, he settled into using a full block print, but sometimes deviated into a script, initials, no signature, or in some of his earliest pieces; he included a "P" for Percevel, his middle name. Sometimes Rockwell stacked the letters in blocks along the right edge, or printed his name backward; as he matured, his running script was most often used.
As is typical to the artist, several discolored white passages exist in the composition. One such area over the "sink," under ultraviolet examination, appears to over paint a previously painted bottle, and other items. This was disclosed by the Williamstown Conservatory in Massachusetts, famous for restoring museum quality Rockwell's that revealed the existence of previously aborted attempts underneath the present painting. The wood frame, over which the delicate canvas was stretched, is very old pine. Its size is 43 inches by thirty-two inches.
The painting was abused and unframed and showed little indication that it ever spent much time in the light of day.
In his autobiography, as told to his son, author, Thomas Rockwell, Norman revealed that in the fall of 1916, he was still living in the Edgewood Hall Boarding House with his father, mother and brother, Jarvis. His mother had been sick most of her life, so living at the boarding house made it easier on the family. The boarding house and Norman's studio were situated in New Rochelle, New York, not far from the city.
Norman became smitten with a young lady who also lived at the boarding house. At this time in his life, Norman would have been about twenty-one. The girl's name was Irene O'Connor, and she taught school. 1916 was a very important year in the development of both Norman and his career. It was the year he talked himself into renting a two-sink studio, "an absolute necessity," according to his own story. The change in studio prompted a change in style for Norman. He decided that perhaps he did sign his name too big, and that he was going to stop painting little boys and puppy dogs. He was going to paint real adults in adult situations. He believed he had out-grown the painting of little kids and Christmas cards.
Ensconced in his new studio, the budding 'prince of art' wasn't doing so well. He did not have the money to pay for adult models. His work suffered. One day, a good friend, Clyde Forsythe, asked to share a corner of Norman's large, two-sink studio for drawing his popular daily comic strip, Axel and Flooey.
Norman wasn't too happy about the idea, but because of their long and close friendship, he agreed to allow Forsythe to work in a small section of the studio for up to three hours a day. The familiarity allowed Forsythe to point out Norman's talent and shortcomings.
After watching Norman turn a beautiful girl into a nice looking woman on canvas, Clyde Forsythe suggested Rockwell go back to painting little boys and puppies, and that he take his puppy pictures down to the Saturday Evening Post
Norman was upset with Forsythe, but he thought about Forsythe's idea. One day he got to thinking about some of the things he had stored around the studio. He got them out and worked up four or five paintings of little boys getting into mischief. He took those paintings down to the "Post." To Norman's surprise, the editor of the "Post" accepted two finished paintings and then okayed three sketches for future Post covers at a whopping price of seventy-five dollars for each cover.
Selling two covers to the "Post" made Norman feel real good, so good, he figured that on the kind of money he would be making, he could well afford a wife. So, what did he do? He asked Irene O'Connor to marry him. They were married in 1916, and moved into a boxy little flat not too far from Norman's studio.
"Not one week passed", according to Norman's own reporting, before his bride returned to her parent's home. Norman must have felt pretty low. The dishes piled up in the one faucet sink, a good clue to the age of the painting. Even the kitten, sitting on the red and white checkered tablecloth, looked forlorn.
Although Mr. Rockwell was known to place a cloud-like background around many of his early subjects, the subdued colors and the horizontal composition were clues that the piece was never intended to find its way onto a magazine cover. The unique signature chiseled above the sink in bold, block letters, almost lost amid the clutter, revealed Rockwell's need to confront his agony, by capturing on canvas, proof of his abandoned, sorry state.
Typical of his work, was the consistent tale-tale vignette the artist had captured, on canvas, something that had gone before, but this time it was his story, not something he made up. Several days after the bride left, Norman received a letter from her. Irene wrote, "Auntie and Uncle came to visit and took us to lunch. I'm having such a good time, I think I will stay another week." There was a postscript, "P.S. Don't forget to feed the cat, and send more money."
Norman's own practiced clear, bold script becomes the provenance of the painting. The signature in the piece, attributed to his wife, whose name was Irene; is signed by "Nora", the first three letters of his own name. Of that particular moment in his life, Rockwell wrote in his autobiography, "One week after we were married, Irene left to visit her parents in Potsdam, New York, for two months, leaving me alone in the dingy third-floor apartment we'd rented in New Rochelle. Four days after she left, I discovered cockroaches in the icebox. She came back after two months and the marriage lasted fourteen years. It wasn't particularly unhappy, but it certainly didn't have any of the warmth and love of a real marriage."
Is it any wonder the pain the artist suffered would surface from his fingertips? It is all there, in the painting: including the pitiful kitten seeking milk from a stack of empty saucers on top of the table crowded with dirty dishes, and the one faucet sink filled with pots and pans. The crowning touch, his feet up on the table, was Rockwell's studio-mate and model, Clyde Forsythe. As he assumed the character of Norman Rockwell, Himself. Forsythe leaned back in the chair, eyes closed, with Norman's pipe in hand, and a three day growth of beard, holding the letter of rejection, replete in pink ruffled apron, playing the part of the newly abandoned husband, a forlorn sight, indeed!
Another discovery by the ultra violet light examination at the Williamstown Conservatory was the revelation of three large fingerprints grasping the top edge of the painting while the painting was still quite wet. When Norman included the contents of his wife, Irene's letter, and its postmarked envelope onto the canvas, he didn't include Irene's signature; instead, in oil, he signed the letter from, "Nora," the first three letters of his own name. Norman's handwriting is as impeccable as was his ability to paint. The entire letter is quite readable on the canvas.
It was obvious Norman Rockwell felt pretty sorry for himself and his marriage; so sorry, after a few failed attempts or failed starts, he poured his feelings onto the canvas. Is it any wonder his introspection was hidden for almost sixty years, not to reappear until after his death? The facts would suggest so.
The End: 2002
America's most beloved illustrator of the twentieth century, Norman Rockwell is renowned for his depictions of daily life in small town and rural America—a world populated by Boy Scouts, mothers, and children, grandpas and grandmas. Indeed, Rockwell's aesthetic goals revolved around his desire to create an ideal America as expressed in his best-selling autobiography, "My Adventures as an Illustrator "(1960): "I paint life as I would like it to be."
The second child of Jarvis Waring Rockwell and his wife Nancy, Norman Perceval Rockwell was born in New York City, in a decrepit brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As a young child, he enjoyed idyllic summers in the country—primarily New Jersey and upstate New York--an experience that remained with him for the remainder of his life and one that had a profound impact on his later choice of iconography.
The Rockwell family remained in Manhattan until 1903, when they moved to Mamaroneck, a suburban town in Westchester County, where they resided in a succession of boarding houses. It was there, while attending high school, that Rockwell decided to pursue a career as an illustrator.
In 1908, he began commuting to New York to study at the Chase School of Fine and Applied Art, and at the age of fifteen he quit high school to enroll in classes at the National Academy of Design. However, finding the Academy's curriculum geared towards training the fine artist rather than the illustrator, he left a year later and enrolled at the Art Students League, studying anatomy under George Bridgman and illustration with Thomas Fogarty. In addition to honing his skills in drawing and painting the figure, Rockwell was introduced to the illustration work of Howard Pyle, whose emphasis on historical themes, as well as his penchant for detail and accuracy, exerted a profound influence on the young artist.
In 1911, Rockwell illustrated his first book, "Tell-Me-Why Stories" about Mother Nature by C.H. Claudy (published 1912). Two years later he contributed the first of many illustrations to "Boys Life," going on to become art director of that magazine soon after. Commissions for other children's periodicals, among them "St. Nicholas," "Youth's Companion" and "American Boy," soon followed.
In 1915, Rockwell moved with his family to New Rochelle, New York, an artists' colony and home to many of America's finest illustrators, including Howard Chandler Christy and Charles Dana Gibson. Sharing sculptor Frederic Remington's old studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, he continued to study the work of older illustrators such as Pyle while painting crisply painted renditions of fresh-faced kids and dogs.
A turning point in Rockwell's career occurred a year later when he sold five cover illustrations to George Horace Lorimer, editor of the "Saturday Evening Post. " For the next four decades, Rockwell's name would become synonymous with the "Post." Indeed, during that period he produced 322 covers for the magazine, the most acclaimed of which was his Thanksgiving "Saying Grace" illustration, which appeared in the 24 November 1951 issue. His superbly crafted, topical, and ofttimes witty portrayals of everyday American types propelled him into the public spotlight and earned him a national reputation.
Rockwell served in the navy during 1917-18, spending much of his time painting official portraits while doing illustration work for the "Post" and magazines such as "Literary Digest" and "Popular Science." He continued his prolific activity until 1923, when he went to Paris to try his hand at modern art.
He enrolled briefly at the Académie Colarossi and spent much of his time studying the work of vanguard painters such as Picasso and Matisse. Although he eventually resumed the style of representational realism that contributed to his immense popularity, Rockwell continued to take an interest in contemporary art throughout his career. He travelled to Europe again in 1927, 1932 and 1938, familiarizing himself with the latest developments in the art world. To be sure, he often incorporated modern spatial devices into his work and even produced his own versions of Jackson Pollock's drip paintings around 1962.
By the 1920s, Rockwell had achieved considerable success in his field. He joined a country club, learned to ride horses, and fraternized with a coterie of fashionable society types that included author F. Scott Fitzgerald. He moved into the Hotel des Artistes on Central Park West in 1929, but after suffering a breakdown shortly thereafter, he returned to New Rochelle, settling into a stylish Colonial Revival House.
In addition to resuming his illustration work, he executed major book commissions that included a new edition of Tom Sawyer and a biography of Louisa May Alcott. He also painted the occasional mural including "The Land of Enchantment" (1934) for the New Rochelle Public Library and "Yankee Doodle" (1937) for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey. He also designed Christmas cards as well as a number of posters for the motion-picture industry, the War Department and consumer products such as Jell-O.
Rockwell moved to Arlington, Vermont in 1939. He remained in Vermont until 1953, when he settled in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, his home for the remainder of his life. During the final phase of his career, Rockwell took his art in a new direction. Moving away from the nostalgic subjects of the past, he depicted contemporary people and events for "Look" magazine, often exploring issues relating to politics, school integration, racism and America's space program.
Despite his remarkable success and the enormous appeal of his work, Rockwell attracted little attention from art historians during his day. In 1946, Arthur L. Guptill published his "Norman Rockwell Illustrator," the first monograph on the artist and one that has since become a classic. Yet until only recently, there have been few exhibitions and little scholarly analysis of Rockwell's work, many viewing him as an old-fashioned realist and his art as overly sentimental.
However, in the wake of his death, scholars have begun to re-assess Rockwell's contribution, linking him to a venerable tradition of genre painting that harks back to the Old Masters. Important exhibitions have been mounted at the Norman Rockwell Museum, which opened in Stockbridge in 1969 (and moved to its current location in 1993), and at other major institutions, notably the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, which organized the exhibition "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People," in 1999.
The most comprehensive collection of his work can be found at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
"I'm not a historian. I just painted the things I saw around me. I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed."
Norman Rockwell truly reflected the currents of American life and times, from his earliest drawings to the patriotic themes of World War II to more politically oriented themes in his later years. His genius was in being able to capture the essence of what is now considered largely "an America vanished," before the world identified with Norman Rockwell magazine covers.
These cover illustrations captured the emotions of the times, not only that which was, but also what people would have liked life to be. One look at an original painting will make apparent the quality of his technique, style, and artistic skills.
Born in New York City, Rockwell spent his childhood and adolescence there, with significant summer excursions into the countryside. He felt a strong sense of connectedness not only with nature, but also with the people who had chosen to live "on nature's terms."
Rockwell's early inspiration to draw and paint came from his father, an avid Sunday painter. It also came indirectly from his grandfather's primitive canvases of bucolic barnyard scenes. He studied painting at the newly formed Arts Students League where he was taught anatomical accuracy by George Bridgman and learned composition from Thomas Fogarty. The most popular and fashionable illustrators of the time; N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish, and Howard Pyle, were also powerful influences on Norman Rockwell's development.
Among the paintings by other artists hanging in his studio were several Pyles, a Leyendecker and a Parrish. The Parrish painting is a self-portrait of the artist sitting at his easel in a side view. It is thought that the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge's logo taken from his famous painting entitled 'The Triple Self-Portrait' was directly inspired by Parrish's self-portrait. Rockwell frequently took good ideas from other artists whom he admired. Another such example, is his 'Shave and a Haircut'(1940) taken directly from the earlier James Montgomery Flagg's 'A Man of Affairs' (1913).
In Rockwell's early years, he studied every magazine with Howard Pyle's illustrations. His admiration for J. C. Leyendecker was even more obsessive for in 1915, after completing his studies, Rockwell moved to New Rochelle to be near Leyendecker. He even rented a studio in the same building and they later shared models, including the indomitable, Pops Fredericks.
At age twenty-two, Rockwell sold his first cover piece to The Saturday Evening Post - a prized commission for an illustrator. It was the beginning of a three hundred and twenty-one cover relationship between Rockwell and the Post, one cover fewer than Leyendecker. As late as 1919, four-color printing was still very expensive, and most popular storytelling magazine covers were produced in limited color. In a sense, Rockwell was the last of the 19th-century genre painters, but one who came into his creative powers at a time when a new audience and a new market was opening up.
Mass-circulated national magazines with great popularity catapulted certain artists into millions of households weekly and Rockwell clearly had the right talent at the right time. In the 1920s and 1930s, Rockwell's work developed more breadth and greater character. His use of humor, which had already been developed in the character of 'Cousin Reginald' (a young boy who was always prim and proper), became an important part of his work. It was a technique he used effectively to draw the viewer into the composition to share the magic of the moment between viewer and artist.
Rockwell was constantly seeking new ideas and new faces in his daily life. He wrote that everything he had ever seen or done had gone into his pictures. He painted not only the scenes and people close to him but, in a quest for authenticity, would approach total strangers and ask them to sit for him. His internal art of 'storytelling' became integrated with his external skills as an artist. What emerged was what we know today as an incredible facility in judging the perfect moment; when to stop the action, snap the picture...when all the elements that define and embellish a total story are in place.
In 1936, Editor George Horace Lorimer retired from The Saturday Evening Post, and the second of two successive editors, Ben Hibbs, altered the circular format of the cover. In fact, Hibbs permitted Norman Rockwell to create with more freedom within a different cover layout. The new mood of both the magazine and the country was reflected in Rockwell's work, as he used the entire cover, unconfined by borders and logos, to express himself.
In the 1940s, Rockwell moved to Arlington, Vermont, where he started to paint the full-canvas paintings that are increasingly treasured by collectors today. With Grandma Moses as a friend and neighbor and local townspeople as his models, Rockwell became a living part of Americana - a national treasure. His painting, 'The Bridge Game' is from this period and it captures the players from a rather unique overhead perspective, four Arlington townspeople at a popular local recreational activity - playing cards. During his Vermont years he flourished, but always within the framework of being an illustrator.
Norman Rockwell was acutely aware of his goals as an artist and his lack of critical acceptance. During World War II, Rockwell joined the legion of artists and writers involved in the war effort to help boost the sale of savings bonds. He tried to explain through his art, what the war was all about. The result of his efforts was 'The Four Freedoms,' at first rejected by the government and then printed as posters by the millions to sell war bonds. 'The Disabled War Veteran' travelled with 'The Four Freedoms', to raise money and they garnered $32 million dollars for the effort.
In the 1960's, from his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Rockwell struck out in a new direction. Though by then his reputation was rooted in the evocation of nostalgia, he boldly tackled political issues. 'The Peace Corps in Ethiopia' captured the idealism of the Kennedy years in a realistic setting. He painted portraits of President Kennedy, but also of Eisenhower, Nixon, and Johnson as well as portraits of other world leaders including Nehru of India and Nassar of Egypt.
In 1962, Rockwell was quoted in Esquire magazine as saying: "I call myself an illustrator but I am not an illustrator. Instead I paint storytelling pictures which are quite popular but unfashionable."
"Unfashionable" was a misnomer; his works were in fact very popular, but he was extremely sensitive to the way the art world as well as the public judged him.
©2004 National Museum of American Illustration
Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Rockwell always wanted to be an artist. At age 14, Rockwell enrolled in art classes at The New York School of Art (formerly The Chase School of Art). Two years later, in 1910, he left high school to study art at The National Academy of Design. He soon transferred to The Art Students League, where he studied with Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. Fogarty’s instruction in illustration prepared Rockwell for his first commercial commissions. From Bridgman, Rockwell learned the technical skills on which he relied throughout his long career.
Rockwell found success early. He painted his first commission of four Christmas cards before his sixteenth birthday. While still in his teens, he was hired as art director of Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America, and began a successful freelance career illustrating a variety of young people’s publications.
At age 21, Rockwell’s family moved to New Rochelle, New York, a community whose residents included such famous illustrators as J.C. and Frank Leyendecker and Howard Chandler Christy. There, Rockwell set up a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe and produced work for such magazines as Life, Literary Digest, and Country Gentleman.
In 1916, the 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post, the magazine considered by Rockwell to be the “greatest show window in America.” Over the next 47 years, another 321 Rockwell covers would appear on the cover of the Post. Also in 1916, Rockwell married Irene O’Connor; they divorced in 1930.
The 1930s and 1940s are generally considered to be the most fruitful decades of Rockwell’s career. In 1930 he married Mary Barstow, a schoolteacher, and the couple had three sons, Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter. The family moved to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939, and Rockwell’s work began to reflect small-town American life.
In 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms paintings. They were reproduced in four consecutive issues of The Saturday Evening Post with essays by contemporary writers. Rockwell’s interpretations of Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear proved to be enormously popular. The works toured the United States in an exhibition that was jointly sponsored by the Post and the U.S. Treasury Department and, through the sale of war bonds, raised more than $130 million for the war effort.
Although the Four Freedoms series was a great success, 1943 also brought Rockwell an enormous loss. A fire destroyed his Arlington studio as well as numerous paintings and his collection of historical costumes and props.
In 1953, the Rockwell family moved from Arlington, Vermont, to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Six years later, Mary Barstow Rockwell died unexpectedly. In collaboration with his son Thomas, Rockwell published his autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, in 1960. The Saturday Evening Post carried excerpts from the best-selling book in eight consecutive issues, with Rockwell’s Triple Self-Portrait on the cover of the first.
In 1961, Rockwell married Molly Punderson, a retired teacher. Two years later, he ended his 47-year association with The Saturday Evening Post and began to work for Look magazine. During his 10-year association with Look, Rockwell painted pictures illustrating some of his deepest concerns and interests, including civil rights, America’s war on poverty, and the exploration of space.
In 1973, Rockwell established a trust to preserve his artistic legacy by placing his works in the custodianship of the Old Corner House Stockbridge Historical Society, later to become Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge. The trust now forms the core of the Museum’s permanent collections.
In 1976, in failing health, Rockwell became concerned about the future of his studio. He arranged to have his studio and its contents added to the trust. In 1977, Rockwell received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal.
Norman Rockwell is perhaps the greatest American illustrator. He created countless scenes of proud family values and humorous subjects with just the right expressions or posture that tell a story instantly. Rockwell studied at the Chase Art School c.1908, The National Academy of Design (1909) and the Art Students League (1916) as well as being awarded three honorary degrees from other colleges. By the age of 18, Rockwell worked as the art director for the magazine Boys Life. He sold his first five covers to the editor of the Saturday Evening Post when he was only 22. At that point, Rockwell averaged 10 covers per year.
He began with a small sketch, then made individual drawings of each element in the scene and finally created a full-sized charcoal drawing of the entire scene before producing the painting. Rockwell produced over 322 covers for the "Saturday Evening Post" from 1916-63.
His work was used in Brown & Bigelow Calendars from 1924-76 as well as every major magazine. Rockwell's illustrations for Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn" are classics. Later in his career Rockwell used photography to project images onto his canvases. From 1960 until his death, Rockwell spent most of his time on large painted photomontages of contemporary personages and events.
He died in 1978.