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Norman RockwellNorman Percevel Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November
8, 1978) was a 20th century American painter. His works enjoy a broad
popular appeal in the United States, where Rockwell is most famous for
the cover illustrations he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine
over more than four decades. Among the best-known of Rockwell's works
are Rosie the Riveter (the less-reproduced of two works generally given
that title) and the Four Freedoms series.
Born on February 3, 1894 in New York City to Jarvis Waring and Ann Mary
(Hill) Rockwell. He had one sibling, a brother, Jarvis. Rockwell transferred
from high school to the Chase Art School at the age of 16. He then went
on to the National Academy of Design, and finally, to the Art Students
League, where he was taught by Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. Rockwell's
early works were done for St. Nicholas Magazine, the Boy Scouts of America
(BSA) publication Boys' Life, and other juvenile publications. Joseph
Csatari carried on his legacy and style for the BSA.
As a student, Rockwell
was given smaller, less important jobs. His first major breakthrough
came in 1912 at age 18 with his first book illustration for C.H. Claudy's
Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature.
Also, at age 19,
in 1913, he became the art editor for Boys' Life, a post he held for
several years. As part of fulfilling that position, he painted several
covers between 1913 and 1915. His first published magazine cover, Scout
at Ship's Wheel, appeared on Boys' Life September 1913 edition.
Speech".During the First World War, he tried to enlist into the
U.S. Navy but was refused entry because, at 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and
140 pounds (64 kg), he was eight pounds underweight. To compensate,
he spent one night gorging himself on bananas, liquids and donuts, and
weighed enough to enlist the next day. However, he was given the role
of a military artist and did not see any action during his tour of duty.
Rockwell moved to
New Rochelle, New York at age 21 and shared a studio with the cartoonist
Clyde Forsythe, who worked for The Saturday Evening Post. With Forsythe's
help, he submitted his first successful cover painting to the Post in
1916, Boy with Baby Carriage (published on May 20). He followed that
success with Circus Barker and Strongman (published on June 3), Gramps
at the Plate (August 5), Redhead Loves Hatty Perkins (September 16),
People in a Theatre Balcony (October 14) and Man Playing Santa (December
9). Rockwell was published eight times total on the Post cover within
the first twelve months. Norman Rockwell published 321 more covers for
The Saturday Evening Post over the next 47 years.
on the cover of the Post led to covers for other magazines of the day,
most notably The Literary Digest, The Country Gentleman, Leslie's Weekly,
Judge, Peoples Popular Monthly and Life magazine.
his first wife, Irene O'Connor, in 1916. Irene was Rockwell's model
in Mother Tucking Children into Bed, published on the cover of The Literary
Digest on January 19, 1921. However, the couple divorced in 1930. He
quickly married schoolteacher Mary Barstow, with whom he had three children:
Jarvis Waring, Thomas Rhodes and Peter Barstow. In 1939, the Rockwell
family moved to Arlington, Vermont, which seemed to inspire him to paint
scenes of everyday small town American life.
The rear of Norman
Rockwell's preserved studio.In 1943, during the Second World War, Rockwell
painted the Four Freedoms series, which was completed in seven months
and resulted in his losing 15 pounds. The series was inspired by a speech
by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had declared that there were four principles
for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom
to Worship, and Freedom from Fear. The paintings were published in 1943
by The Saturday Evening Post. The U.S. Treasury Department later promoted
war bonds by exhibiting the originals in 16 cities. Rockwell himself
considered "Freedom of Speech" to be the best of the four.
That same year a
fire in his studio destroyed numerous original paintings, costumes,
and props. Later, in 1953, his wife Mary died unexpectedly, which resulted
in Rockwell taking time off to grieve. It was during this break that
he and his son Thomas produced his autobiography, My Adventures as an
Illustrator, which was published in 1960. The Post printed excerpts
from this book in eight consecutive issues, the first containing Rockwell's
famous Triple Self-Portrait.
During the late
1940's, Norman Rockwell spent the winter months as artist-in-residence
at Otis College of Art and Design. Students occasionally are models
for his Saturday Evening Post covers. In 1949, Rockwell donates an original
Post cover, "April Fool," to be raffled off in a library fund
his third wife, retired schoolteacher Molly Punderson, in 1961. His
last painting for the Post was published in 1963, marking the end of
a publishing relationship that had included 321 cover paintings. He
spent the next 10 years painting for Look Magazine, where his work depicted
his interests in civil rights, poverty and space exploration.
of RockwellDuring his long career, he was commissioned to paint the
portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, as
well as those of other world figures, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and
Jawaharlal Nehru. One of his last works was a portrait of legendary
singer Judy Garland in 1969.
to "get the point across" in one picture, and his flair for
painstaking detail made him a favorite of the advertising industry.
He was also commissioned to illustrate over 40 books including the ever-popular
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. His annual contributions for the Boy
Scouts' calendars (1925 – 1976), were only slightly overshadowed
by his most popular of calendar works: the "Four Seasons"
illustrations for Brown & Bigelow that were published for 17 years
beginning in 1947 and reproduced in various styles and sizes since 1964.
Illustrations for booklets, catalogs, posters (particularly movie promotions),
sheet music, stamps, playing cards, and murals (including "Yankee
Doodle Dandy", which was completed in 1936 for the Nassau Inn in
Princeton, New Jersey) rounded out Rockwell's œuvre as an illustrator.
In his later years, Rockwell began receiving more attention as a painter
when he chose more serious subjects such as the series on racism for
Look. Another late career painting, Shuffleton's Barber Shop is considered
by many critics to be one of his masterpieces.
of 574 of his original paintings and drawings was established with Rockwell's
help near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the museum is
still open today year round http://www.nrm.org. Rockwell received in
1977 the Presidential Medal of Freedom for "vivid and affectionate
portraits of our country," the United States of America's highest
Rockwell is a recipient
of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy
Scouts of America.
died November 8, 1978 of emphysema at age 84 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
One of many Saturday Evening Post covers
"The Problem We all Live with."Norman Rockwell was very prolific,
and produced over 4000 original works, most of which have been either
destroyed by fire or are in permanent collections. Original magazines
in mint condition that contain his work are extremely rare and can command
thousands of dollars today.
Many of his works
appear overly sweet in modern critics' eyes, especially the Saturday
Evening Post covers, which tend toward idealistic or sentimentalized
portrayals of American life—this has led to the often-depreciatory
adjective Rockwellesque. Consequently, Rockwell is not considered a
"serious painter" by some contemporary artists, who often
regard his work as bourgeois and kitsch. Writer Vladmir Nabokov scorned
brilliant technique put to "banal" use, and wrote in his book
Pnin: "That Dalí is really Norman Rockwell's twin brother
kidnapped by gypsies in babyhood". He is called an "illustrator"
instead of an artist by some critics, a designation he did not mind,
as it was what he called himself. Yet, Rockwell sometimes produced iimages
considered powerful and moving to anyone's eye. One example is The Problem
We All Live With, which dealt with the issue of school integration.
The painting depicts a young African American girl, Ruby Bridges, flanked
by white federal marshals, walking to school past a wall defaced by
racist graffiti. It is probably not an image that could have appeared
on a magazine cover earlier in Rockwell's career, but it ranks among
his best-known works today. Though many people say he was a part of
the Art Deco movement he was actually commercial artist and mostly designed
his pictures toward magazines and books.
NAME Norman Rockwell
SHORT DESCRIPTION Painter
DATE OF BIRTH February 3, 1894
PLACE OF BIRTH New York City
DATE OF DEATH November 8, 1978
PLACE OF DEATH Stockbridge, Massachusetts
February 3, 1894
marked the birth of one of America’s most beloved artists, Norman
Percevel Rockwell. Norman Rockwell was born in his parent’s Upper
West Side Manhattan apartment.
The second son of
businessman Jarvis Waring and Ann Mary (Hill) Rockwell, young Norman
showed talent from the beginning. In fact, Rockwell remembered his first
sketches as drawings of warships from the Spanish-American war. Jarvis
Waring enjoyed reading various literary masterpieces aloud to his family,
especially the works of classic author Charles Dickens. Young Norman
would attentively listen as he sketched the characters while his father
read the story aloud.
is a hard thing to repress; some say that art “flows” out
of artists. Rockwell was no different. During his high school years,
he studied at the Chase School of Fine and Applied Art, every Saturday
and most Wednesdays. Rockwell’s love for art was steadily growing
at this point and, during his sophomore year, he left high school to
attend the National Academy of Design. He described the school as “stiff
and scholarly,” opting to transfer to the Art Students League
years at the Art Students League proved fruitful for the young painter/illustrator.
At the tender age of sixteen, and still a student at the Art Students
League, he painted his first commission of four Christmas cards. The
following year he accepted his first real job as an artist illustrating
the “Tell me Why Stories,” a series of children’s
books. Shortly after that he was hired as the art director of “Boys’
Life” magazine, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of
America. Rockwell continued his work with the Scouts, illustrating the
official Boy Scout calendar for fifty years.
Following his success
with the “Tell Me Why Series,” Rockwell moved to New Rochelle,
New York and set up a studio with cartoonist Clyde Forsythe. He began
freelancing his services to magazines such as “Life,” “Literary
Digest” and “County Gentleman.” As his portfolio grew,
so did his confidence in his artwork. In 1916 the 22 year-old Rockwell
mustered up some courage and sold his first cover to "The Saturday
Evening Post," perhaps the most prestigious magazine of that era.
The picture was of an uncomfortable, young boy wearing a bowler hat,
dressed somewhat maturely for his age and diligently pushing a baby
carriage past a group of sneering boys in baseball uniforms. The artwork,
entitled “Mother’s Day Off,” ran on the cover of the
May 20, 1916 issue; that same year he married his first wife, teacher
Irene O’Connor. Their marriage ended in 1928.
Americans were extremely
receptive to Rockwell’s "Saturday Evening Post" covers.
In fact, Rockwell went on to create 321 covers for the Post, each portraying
typical American life and values. His covers were so successful that
when his art appeared on the cover, 50,000 – 75,000 additional
copies of the Saturday Evening Post sold at newsstands. "The Saturday
Evening Post" covers eventually became his greatest legacy. For
an artist in the first half of the 20th century, Rockwell did extremely
well. By the onset of World War I, he was making $40,000 per year. Remarkably
his salary never went below that point, even during the Great Depression.
The 1930s proved
to be an amazing decade for Rockwell. In 1930 he married Mary Barstow.
The couple moved to Arlington, Vermont and had three sons together:
Jarvis, Thomas and Peter. In the mid-1930s Rockwell was approached to
illustrate new editions of the Mark Twain classics “The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn” and “Tom Sawyer.” Always taking
his work to the next level, Rockwell traveled to Hannibal, Missouri,
the setting for most of Twain’s legendary novels, to depict more
realistic illustrations for Twain’s fictional adventures. While
there he created sketches of the city and brought home authentic regional
costumes for models to wear while he painted his illustrations.
Through the years,
Rockwell’s renditions of Americana appeared all over the world.
During World War II he painted his widely-loved series the “Four
Freedoms” as his personal contribution to the war effort. The
patriotic paintings symbolized the war aims President Roosevelt set
forth. The “Four Freedoms” were reproduced in four consecutive
issues of “The Saturday Evening Post” alongside essays by
contemporary American writers. “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom
to Worship,” “Freedom from Want” and “Freedom
from Fear” were so successful that the works toured in an exhibition
that raised $139.9 million for the war effort through the sales of war
In 1953 the Rockwell
family relocated to Stockbridge, Massachusetts where Mary was treated
at the Austen Riggs Center for her declining health. Six years after
the move, Mary died unexpectedly. In 1960 Rockwell, with the help of
his son Thomas, published his autobiography “My Adventures as
an Illustrator.” The book proved to be a success, with excerpts
carried in eight consecutive “Saturday Evening Post” issues.
In 1961 Rockwell married Mary L. “Molly” Punderson and continued
to live in Stockbridge and create his now nostalgic masterpieces.
In 1963, after 47
years at "The Saturday Evening Post," Rockwell parted ways
with the magazine. He went to work for "Look" magazine almost
immediately. There he was able to express his deepest concerns and interests,
such as civil rights and the war on poverty.
Some of Rockwell’s
most powerful creations came out of his years with "Look."
One such piece was inspired by the unjust murders of three civil rights
workers near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The painting, “Southern
Justice,” was done in 1965 and depicts the horror endured by three
young men, two white and one black, who had come to Mississippi in the
fight for equality. One man is seen lying dead in the foreground; the
next is standing in the glow of the attacker’s torch while defending
the third man, who appears near death. Another, entitled “The
Problem We All Live With” depicts a young black girl in a white
dress being escorted to school by U.S. Marshals. Of his gripping and
powerful illustrations for "Look," Rockwell wrote: “For
47 years, I portrayed the best of all possible worlds – grandfathers,
puppy dogs – things like that. That kind of stuff is dead now,
and I think it’s about time.”
Galleries of New York City organized a retrospective show of Rockwell’s
work in 1971. The artist went on to establish a trust to protect his
personal collection of paintings in 1972. He placed his works in the
Old Corner House Stockbridge Historical Society, which later became
the Norman Rockwell Museum in a dedication ceremony on February 3, 1994,
the 100th anniversary of Rockwell’s birth.
July 1976 brought
Rockwell’s last published work, the cover of “American Artist.”
He painted himself draping a “Happy Birthday” banner on
the Liberty Bell in observance of the Fourth of July and the 200th anniversary
of the Declaration of Independence. In 1977 President Gerald R. Ford
presented Rockwell with the country's highest civilian honor, the Presidential
Medal of Freedom . The award was given for Rockwell’s “vivid
and affectionate portraits of our country.”
On November 8, 1978
Norman Rockwell died in his Stockbridge home at the age of 84, leaving
an unfinished painting on his easel. His now nostalgic paintings and
illustrations continue to live on in American history, depicting decades
of pleasantry and pain. A second edition of his autobiography was published
in 1988, with new material from Tom Rockwell, covering the final 20
years of his father’s life. Norman Rockwell's ability to relate
to the values and events of an evolving society made him a hero, a visionary
and a friend, not only to Americans but also to individuals all over
the globe. In his own words, "Without thinking too much about it
in specific terms, I was showing the America I knew and observed to
others who might not have noticed."