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Norman Rockwell

American Illustrator, Painter, and Author

Norman Rockwell Photo
Movement: Realism

Born: February 3, 1894 - New York City

Died: November 8, 1978 - Stockbridge, Massachusetts

"I sometimes think we paint to fulfill ourselves and our lives, to supply the things we want and don't have."

Summary of Norman Rockwell

Rockwell presented the world with the definitive picture of what it meant to be "all-American". He is remembered chiefly for his 47-year association with The Saturday Evening Post weekly, for whom he painted over 320 cover images, and his long-standing connection with the Boy Scouts of America, for whom he provided artworks for its annual calendar for most of his working years. His preoccupation with the minutiae of the daily lives of the American nuclear family, not to mention his vital contribution to the World War II propaganda effort, have seen him achieve American icon status.

Preferring to be thought of as a genre painter (rather than an illustrator), he is best known perhaps for a particular type of painting rather than for specific works and, not unlike Edward Hopper, his vision of the American small town has seeped into the nation's collective consciousness. Though his unabashed patriotism and pictorial style made him an easy target for avant-gardists and left-wing intellectuals, his later work revealed the influence of Social Realism and several of his mature pieces, especially those he produced for Look magazine, took on a more socio-political edge. History has, quite rightly, tended to be very appreciative of Rockwell's contribution to the pictorial arts in America and his nostalgic images continue to adorn calendars, post-cards, posters and other arts ephemera.

Key Ideas

A religious and traditional thinker, Rockwell was above all else a patriot. His was a sympathetic and optimistic view of the average American and he, more than any other artist in its history, captured the daily customs and rituals of the comely ways of traditional American family life.
Though "dismissed" by some as an illustrator, Rockwell executed his scenes with humor and respect for his subjects, and with an attention to detail that, in his words, would make the spectator "want to sigh and smile at the same time." Painting at a time when abstract art was coming to the fore, Rockwell remained convinced that his positive and unambiguous images trumped the self-indulgences of abstract experimentation.
The champion of Abstract Expressionism, Clement Greenberg, was one of those who condemned Rockwell's work for being sentimental and commercial and he criticized the artist because he "chose not to be serious." But Rockwell was deeply serious about his art. His position was perhaps best summed up by his own granddaughter, Abigail Rockwell when she wrote: "Some say life will never be as perfect as life in a Norman Rockwell painting. But my grandfather's work isn't about an unachievable ideal. Pop's work is about believing in the goodness of people. It's about finding that goodness in ourselves and others and in the moments we spend with one another."
Though Rockwell maintained that he always "wanted to entertain" his late period paintings often promoted "causes" such as freedom of speech and the Civil Rights Movement. Even his more overtly sentimental paintings started to acknowledge shifting class and gender roles while he remained a strong advocate of democratic values and the acceptance of all races and religions throughout his adult life.
In the same way that, say, Vermeer and Caravaggio used the camera obscura as an aid to producing their compositions, so Rockwell would use photography to capture an image of his sitters. Though his models were nearly always friends of acquaintances, Rockwell rotated a small squad of photographers who would record, under his direction, scenes that the painter himself would compose. Much to the chagrin of purists who believed that art should always be produced "freehand," Rockwell would, with the aid of a projector, trace and sketch the images onto his canvas before composing his intricate narrative paintings.
Norman Rockwell Life and Legacy

Norman Percevel Rockwell was the second of three sons born to Jarvis Waring Rockwell, the manager of a Philadelphia textile company, and Anne Mary Rockwell, an anxious but adventuresome wife, mother and homemaker. His parents were very religious and he and his brothers spent many hours with the choir at St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village. During summer months, the family lived in New England on country farms. Rockwell stated in his autobiography "I have no bad memories of my summers in the country [and they] had a lot to do with what I painted later on." Even as a young boy, he learned to admire the farm families' open expressiveness and enjoyed the calm of milking the cows which contrasted with his busy city life.

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