Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Norman Rockwell--Madison Moyle

Norman Rockwell was born in 1894 in New York City, and proved to be one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.  He is most famous for his 321 covers of The Saturday Evening Post, where he is known for depicting social injustices, small town America, and the war on poverty.  His archives effectively serve as a timeline for the average American living in the middle class from the 1930's to the 1950's.
Rockwell was educated as an artist beginning at a very early age, and he left high school early for the opportunity to attend The National Academy of Design.  He transferred and completed his degree at the Art Students League of New York, and was immediately employed by Boy's Life Magazine.  As the most popular weekly magazine at the time, Rockwell aspired to illustrate for the The Saturday Evening Post.   He approached the magazine as a virtually unknown 22 year old artist, and after having "Boy with Baby Carriage" published on the front cover, he started his 47 year employment with the magazine.
"Boy with Baby Carriage"--Rockwell's first  cover for The Saturday Evening Post
Rockwell enjoyed early success in his career, and unlike many artists, was awarded the prosperity of a steady job.  However, while he reached wide acclaim for his portrayal of middle-class life, critics always discredited his work calling him a "mere illustrator" and not a true artist.  Rockwell didn't mind, having said, "Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I've always called myself an illustrator. I'm not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life." 
Rockwell reached the peak of his popularity in the 1930's and 40's when he captured scenes of war-time America in his paintings.  In 1943, he was inspired by President Roosevelt's speech and created the Four Freedoms paintings, which were featured on four consecutive Saturday Evening Post covers.  The paintings went on tour around the United States and through the sale of war bonds, raised over $130 million for the war effort. He said, "Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn't the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn't an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it."  
Freedom from Fear, Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship
Norman Rockwell, 1943
In 1943 after the Four Freedoms were published, Rockwell's studio burned down, and multiple paintings were destroyed.  Critics have called this incident a turning point in his work because many of his costumes and props were ruined, and Rockwell started painting more realistic situations. He began to create incredibly realistic paintings of genuine middle class life, and they were well received by the American public. Before painting, Rockwell used photographs as the inspiration for his illustrations--oftentimes placing models and then waiting to capture expressions and small gestures.  He would then create multiple sketches before completing a full-scale charcoal drawing where all details, composition, and tonality were perfected.  Many of his drawings are just as impressive as his paintings, and Rockwell shows an incredible sense of detail and shading.
Photo inspiration for "Going and Coming"
"Going and Coming" 
Norman Rockwell, 1947
He would then create multiple sketches before completing a full-scale charcoal drawing where all details, composition, and tonality were perfected.  Many of his drawings are just as impressive as his paintings, and Rockwell shows an incredible sense of detail and shading. As a drawer, Rockwell was focused on making each person look as realistic as possible.  He made magazine covers and historical events effectively come to life through his interpretation of people and their facial expressions.

"Can't Wait" Charcoal Painting and Photograph with Model
Norman Rockwell 1972
"Can't Wait" Final Painting
Norman Rockwell, 1972
In 1963, Rockwell left the Saturday Evening Post, and began to paint for Look magazine.  His work shifted yet again, and had a heightened focus on civil rights, political situations, and social issues.  Late in his career, he was also commissioned to paint portraits of US Presidents and for the Boy Scouts of America.  In 1977, Rockwell received the highest honor awarded to civilians, The Presidential Medal of Freedom, for "vivid and affectionate portraits of our country."
"The Problem We All Live With"
Norman Rockwell, 1964
Ruby Bridges walking to school in New Orleans
Undoubtedly, Rockwell will be remembered for his expansive (over 4,000 original works) and detailed collection.  Not only was he a talented drawer, painter, and illustrator--he was a true American citizen who was able to accurately capture human life at a crucial time in history. Rockwell died in 1978 at age 84.

*Note: I chose Norman Rockwell because he was a close friend of my grandfather.  In 1969, Brown and Bigelow (a calendar company where my grandfather worked) asked Rockwell to pose in Beyond the Easel, which was a calendar illustration that year.  They became close friends, and I grew up knowing and loving his work.


Finch, Christopher. Norman Rockwell: 332 Magazine Covers. New York City: Abbeville Press Publishers, 2013. Print.
Pero, Linda Szekely. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell. Stockbridge: Excelsior Printing Co., 2007. Print. 
Claridge, Laura P. Norman Rockwell: A Life. New York: Random House, 2001. Print
"About Norman Rockwell." Norman Rockwell Museum. Norman Rockwell Museum, 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. <>. 
"Norman Rockwell Gallery." Saturday Evening Post. N.p., 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2014. 

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