Norman Rockwell. The Artist's Daughter. c1940
|Form: Oil on Canvas. Though he was, by all accounts a painter, he is
often referred to as an illustrator because of the work he did for various
magazines. His work is very detailed and realistic, he most often painted
scenes that are best described as 'Americana'. Working in the 40's and
50's, he was influenced greatly by the scenes of the war and social unrest,
but did not let them make his paintings overtly political or depressing.
Just the opposite, he chose gentle, touching scenes from everyday life.
Iconography: Norman Rockwell was a family man. He had a strong moral conscience when it came to family life and child-rearing. Often, he would paint scenes of young boys at play, innocent and untouched by the worries of the adult world. Here, he is painting a tender portrait of his daughter in a scene that could very well be from his own observation. It shows a scene in which the daughter emulates the father, trying to step into his shoes. She is using his palette, grasped in her tiny hand it almost dwarfs her entire length. The brush, too, is almost too big for her hands, and she is trying on her fathers expression, one of observation and concentration as she tries to accurately capture the look on her dolls face. There are no hidden meanings or deep, tortured-artists statements to be made in this work, it is, very simply, what you see is what you get.
Context: "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
Also in 1916, Rockwell married Irene O'Connor; they would go on to divorce
in 1930. The '30s and '40s 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, more consistently,
to reflect small-town American life.
Norman Rockwell. Grace Before the Meal. c1950
|Form: Oil on canvas
Iconography: Almost every religion that recognizes prayer is able to
associate themselves with this painting, "The American art world
is finally reevaluating Norman Rockwell, appreciating his skill and subject
matter so derided and dismissed as mere illustration by the elites and
radicals when he was alive. His characters no longer evoke cornball sentimentalism,
not even to the sophisticated critics. In fact, some critics
Context: As one of his earlier works, Rockwell still had the focus on strong family values. He is here showing the generations of one family coming together before a meal, the grandmother, the young boy, and the older adolescents. It was a view of America that showed it as safe, loving and strong in family.
It is also interesting to compare this image with a painting by the same title by Chardin.
Norman Rockwell. Abstract and Concrete. 1962
|Form: Oil on canvas
Iconography: It is fairly evident what ideals Rockwell was commenting
on with this piece,“ Norman Rockwell's January 1962 Post cover was atypical
of what America had become accustomed to since he landed his first commission
with the magazine in 1916. It wasn't comical. In his realistic almost
photographic style Rockwell depicted of the backside of businessman standing
in a gallery, contemplating the meaning of a huge abstract painting that
looked as if the artist had dripped his multitude of oils from a stick
or can onto the canvas while it was lying on the floor. The illustrator's
rendering of Abstract & Concrete must have been indicative of what
Rockwell, then 68, was pondering at the time. "How will I be remembered?
As a technician or artist? As a humorist or a visionary?" This was
the beginning of one of the most turbulent times in America. When the seriousness
of the 20th century would become even more serious. A century in which
the majority of those deemed as socially significant art critics would
use words like"master" to describe modernists like Jackson Pollack while
scoffing at the artisan most popular to the people.” …..”In the sixties
his subjects broadened to include political portraits, poverty, race relations
and the space exploration. "Without thinking
Context: Norman Rockwell was exceedingly talented. In his time he was seen as little more than an illustrator, his work derided by some as too generic and ‘sappy’. It is ironic then, that in the backlash from an artworld filled with abstract, unreadable images, that his work is now being hailed as that on par with a Caravaggio or Rembrandt. If we could say that he was looking into the future, it would be safe to assume that this is Rockwell himself, looking at the art that had cost him his ability to be viewed as a fine artist. In the end, however, it was the same work that has now raised him onto a pedestal.
Norman Rockwell. The Problem We All Live With. 1964
|Form: Oil on canvas
Iconography: Rockwell had seen a lot in his lifetime, and entering old age he found himself embroiled in the most controversial decades of American history, dealing with integration, civil rights, and political unrest. Rockwell, though a paragon of whitebread America, believed firmly in change, and that every human is equal. He shows the little girl, head held high, embarking on a journey that most adults would not dare take. In an interview with Peter Rockwell, Norman Rockwells’ son, Ray Suarez and Maureen Hart-Hennesey have this to say about the work,..“ Though America was torn by rapid breakneck economic and technological change, Depression and war, Rockwell used his prodigious talent in the service of business. The "Prayerful Silence," worthy of a Flemish master, sold raisins. His use of models from his New England home towns results in an America that is virtually all white. The cities, teeming with immigrants from around the world, and their children, the suffering and desperation of the 30's, the lives of millions of industrial workers rarely appeared. Instead, we got prom couples, cute as buttons; dogs that always seem to stay puppies; lovable old codgers, and grandmothers who look like, well, grannies -- a world where it rarely rained-- that is, until the later years. In 1963, Rockwell left "the Saturday Evening Post" and began work for "Look" magazine where he explored more controversial issues such as housing integration and school desegregation, as in this work, "The Problem we all Live with."
"The Problem we all Live with" was inspired by Rockwell's remembering the story of ruby bridges, who is the African American girl who was the only black child sent to desegregate an all-white school in New Orleans, and this happened in 1960, and she really was tormented-- literally had to run a gauntlet every day of white parents throwing things at her and yelling at her, and was accompanied to school every day by the U.S. Marshals. But there's a real violence inherent, I think, in that scene. You can see where the tomato has been thrown at the... At the child, and the words that are scrawled on the wall behind her that it could explode at any moment-- and he really captures that.”full text on http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/entertainment/july-dec00/rockwell_7-4.html
“A controversial artist, even today. And controversy has followed him for decades. Prestigious bastions of Art, 'High' and 'Low,' museums and galleries, have refused to show his retrospective. And even the Chicago Tribune felt compelled to run dual reviews -- Pro and Contra -- of the current exhibition scheduled to run until May 21st at the Chicago Historical Society. Norman Rockwell... Or, as many would have it, Norman Rockwell !?! Yes, "Pictures for the American People" has arrived: Seventy oil paintings, all 322 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, as well as studies in oil and pencil, and photographs. One should note that it isn't -- necessarily -- Norman Rockwell's politics or religious views that are so often attacked or disdained. He was what in any milieu one would have to call 'a decent man,' and in many instances, courageous.( www.artscope.net)
His painting, The Problem We All Live With appeared on the cover of Look magazine on January 14, 1964. It infuriated some, heartened the hopes of others, shamed many, and was met with indifference or scorn by the Art Establishment. The Problem We All Live With strikes directly at the heart and exemplifies Rockwell's hallmark approach: strong horizontals, close foreground, and, especially, telling details which draw the viewer into concluding a narrative, one orchestrated to move him. The perceptive viewer notes not only the confident posture and countenance of the young girl -- her escorts are cropped and anonymous agents of the law -- but the writ in the pocket of the advancing guard, the contrast of schoolbooks with the graffiti on the wall, the smashed tomato the least of projectiles launched in those times). It is an approach common to centuries of fine art, emblematic and immediate. But Rockwell's concern at this date is not doctrine, or delight: he stirs a decent empathy, a quietly powerful outrage.”