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Norman Percevel Rockwell was born on Feb. 3, 1894 in New York, New York. As a boy
he grew fond of the country, where he moved to a few years after he was born, and stayed
away from the city as much as he could, which would later be shown in his works
(Buechner, Retrospective, 24). When he was 14, he had to commute to New York City
twice a week to attend the Chase School of Fine and Applied Art. After awhile he
dropped out of his sophomore year of high school, and became a full time student at The
National Academy School (Buechner, Artist, 38). He illustrated his first Saturday Evening
Post cover on May 20, 1916, which was his first big break. Norman Rockwell says, “If
one wants to paint covers for the Post, one must begin by accepting certain limitations.
The cover must please a vast number (no matter how: by amusing, edifying, praising; but
it must please); it must not require an explanation or caption to be understood; it must
have an instantaneous impact (people won’t bother to puzzle out a cover’s meaning)”
(The Norman Rockwell Album, 29). More people have seen Rockwell’s work, mostly on
the covers on the widely circulated Saturday Evening Post, more than all of
Michelangelo’s, Rembrandt’s, and Picasso’s put together, estimated by Life magazine
Rockwell creates his pictures in separate stages. First he makes a loose rough draft
of his idea. Second, he gathers costumes, props and models. Rockwell’s models are
usually his friends, because he knows them and likes them (Walton 16). Later on in
Rockwell’s lifetime he would stray away from using real models, he would use
photographs to do this step instead. He would take either sketches or pictures and then
paint them onto canvas. Next he draws individual parts of the picture. Fourth, he would
sketch the whole drawing in great detail. Fifth, he would put color into his sketches, and
sixth he would put all the parts together into the final painting (Buechner, Artist, 44).
Rockwell used foreground invitation in many of his works. Foreground invitation means
that the picture suggests that the viewer is entering the picture and into the scene.
Rockwell’s subject matter is average America. For his first 30 years, he painted
scenes of the country, childhood embarrassments, discomforts and humiliations (Buechner,
Retrospective, 44). He also painted for advertisements during his this period. For example
Fisk Bicycle Tires and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. During the
twenties, Rockwell became rich and famous. He became the top cover artist for the
Saturday Evening Post which his work appeared almost every month. During the twenties,
he also took on more advertising jobs, at twice the fee of a Saturday Evening Post cover
(Buechner, Retrospective, 46). During his appearances on the Post during the twenties, he
introduced many new subjects, and several characters that would reappear which where
bums, sheriffs, musicians and doctors (Buechner, Retrospective, 52).
1935 to 1939 were the years when Rockwell’s finest art was done (Buechner,
Retrospective, 61). Rockwell had stopped using real models and started to turn more
toward photographs. This helped him to create a more life like subject because the
photograph stays still, a model tends to turn around. He produced sixty-seven Saturday
Evening Post covers during the thirties, far less than he did in the twenties but more than
any other artist. His most important works of this time was an 8 piece color set for
Huckleberry Finn in 1935. Rockwell took this job with enthusiasm because he had a
chance to participate in the tradition to illustrate different scenes in classical works, not
stories he made up on his own (Buechner, Retrospective, 75).
Rockwell’s art was a big part of the war effort in the forties. A series of paintings
called the Four Freedoms explained what the war effort was all about. These pictures
(Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Fear, Freedom of Worship, and Freedom from Want)
were toured in sixteen select cities and were seen by 1,222,000 people and used in selling
$132,999,537 worth of war bonds (Buechner, Artist, 161). Rockwell also praised the
efforts of women during the war in his paintings. In his Saturday Evening Post cover
titled “Rosie the Riveter” , Rosie (as indicated on her lunch box) sits in a pose of the
prophet Isaiah (created by Michelangelo in his Sistine chapel painting). This pose portrays
the power of women who have filled in for the men in heavy industry jobs (Meyer, 42).
Rockwell also made many Army recruiting posters, to recruit younger peoples to the
After the war to his death Rockwell painted all sorts of subjects. He painted every
single presidential candidate, starting with Eisenhower. He painted scenes of space
exploration, more specifically, Apollo 11 landing on the moon. He painted one of the
most famous self-portraits during this time. Called “Triple self-portrait”, it shows
Rockwell painting a much younger self while looking into a mirror of his older self.
Rockwell even painted social problems of that time including segregation. In “The
Problem We All Live With”, a little African-American girl is being escorted into school by
four United States Marshals while the little girl has tomatoes being thrown at her.
Rockwell’s art has clearly became the most recognizable art in America’s time.
Rockwell’s art brought the America people as a whole together to reminisce of the early
stages of childhood innocents, he told us the idealistic American Dream was and he
persuaded us as a country to fight for what is right and protect our freedoms that our
ancestors fought so hard for during World War II. Norman Rockwell had a style uniquely
his own, his illustrations looking so real at times, that it looks like he had just
photographed the image onto canvas. His style was so simple but told you everything you
needed to know, this defined American art perfectly. This style was seen for the work he
did in the Saturday Evening Post and different advertisements thorough his life. His work
will be remembered always.
1.) Buechner, Thomas S. Norman Rockwell A Sixty Year Retrospective. New York:
Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1972
2.) Buechner, Thomas S. Norman Rockwell Artist and Illustrator. New York: Harry N.
Abrams Inc., 1970
3.) Rockwell, Norman The Norman Rockwell Album. Garden City: Doubleday &
Company, Inc., 1961
4.) Walton, Donald A Rockwell Portrait. Kansas City: Sheed Andrews and McMeel Inc.,
5.) Meyer, Susan E. Norman Rockwell’s World War II Impressions From the
Homefront. USAA foundation, 1991
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