is a great American artist. Critics often dismiss his work as being edited versions of ideal American life, but his paintings' visual generosity and relentless perfectionism rank him with other master realist painters. He is usually described as an illustrator, whereas most artists who paint pictures are called painters. There is little or no difference between a painter and an illustrator except for the kinds of subjects they choose. Both do their work on paper and canvas, and both use pencils, crayons and paints to make their pictures. The subjects chosen by illustrators either tell a story that most people can understand or they make pictures for a book that show part of a story written by an author. A painter, on the other hand, usually chooses a subject where the picture stands by itself. It may show a vase of flowers or a landscape scene—or ...
Rockwell enjoyed drawing at an early age and soon decided he wanted to be an artist. During his freshman year in high school, he also attended the Chase School on Saturdays to study art. Later that year he attended Chase twice a week. Halfway through his sophomore year, he quit high school and went full time to art school.
He enrolled first in the National Academy School and then attended the Art Students League. At the Art Students League, Rockwell was strongly influenced by his teachers George Bridgeman, who helped him excel in his drawing skills, and Thomas Fogarty, who passed on his enthusiasm for illustration to Rockwell. While Rockwell was still at the school, Fogarty sent him to a publisher, where he got a job illustrating a children's book. He next received an assignment from Boys' Life magazine. The editor liked his work and continued to give him assignments. Eventually Rockwell was made art director of the magazine. He worked regularly on other children's magazines as well. "The kind of work I did seemed to be what the magazines wanted," he remarked in his autobiography.
NORMAN ROCKWELL, whose work has been reproduced more often than Michelangelo's, Picasso's, and Rembrandt's put together, was a success from the start of his career. He told stories through his illustrations that reflected idealized views of American life, showing ordinary people doing ordinary things. He was a master at his craft, who was as much at ease painting kings, statesmen, presidents and movie stars as he was at painting freckled-faced boys, pigtailed girls, kindly old folks. He wrote:
“I paint life as I would like it to be. If there was sadness in this creative world of mine, it was a pleasant sadness. If there were problems, they were humorous problems. The common places of America are to me the richest subjects in art, boys batting flies on vacant lots; girls playing jacks on front steps; old men plodding home at twilight; all these arouse feelings in me. 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. Things happen in the country, but you don't see them. In the city you are constantly confronted by unpleasantness. I find it sordid and unsettling. I've always wanted everybody to like my work. I could never be satisfied with just the approval of the critics. So I've painted pictures that didn't disturb anybody, that I knew everyone would understand and like.”
As a young illustrator, he had a secret ambition-- to have his work appear on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. Indeed, at the start of Rockwell's career, the magazine (first published in 1729) was then reaching an audience of 2 million readers who were entertained and informed with articles by the leading names in literature and artwork from the brightest stars in illustration.
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". Rockwell was following in the footsteps of his heroes, such as illustrator J.C. Leyendecker. It was Rockwell's dream to do a Post cover. Since he did not have an appointment, he showed his work to the art editor, who then showed it to Lorimer. The editor accepted Rockwell's two finished paintings for covers as well as three sketches for future covers. Over the next 47 years, another 321 Rockwell covers would appear on the cover of the Post.
Top 25 Norman Rockwell images:
Saturday Evening Post Covers
Rockwell's success with the Post made him more attractive to other magazines, and he began selling paintings and drawings to Life, Judge, and Leslie's. In 1917, shortly after the United States entered World War I (1914–18; a war fought between German-led Central Powers and the Allies: England, the United States, Italy, and other nations), Rockwell joined the navy and was assigned to the camp newspaper. Meanwhile, he continued painting for the Post and other publications. After the war Rockwell started doing advertising illustration, working for Jell-O, Willys cars, and Orange Crush soft drinks, among others.
After President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945) made a speech to Congress in 1941 describing the "four essential human freedoms," Rockwell created paintings of the four freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. He completed the paintings in six months in 1942, and they were published in the Post in 1943. The pictures became greatly popular, and many other publications asked the Post for permission to reprint them. The federal government also took the original paintings on a national tour to sell war bonds. As Ben Hibbs, editor of the Post, noted in Rockwell's autobiography, "They were viewed by 1,222,000 people in 16 leading cities and were instrumental in selling $132,992,539 worth of bonds".
Although the Four Freedoms series was a great success, 1943 also brought Rockwell an enormous loss. A fire destroyed his Arlington studio as well as numerous paintings and his collection of historical costumes and props.
Rockwell published his autobiography, “My Adventures as an Illustrator”, in 1960. The Saturday Evening Post carried excerpts from the best-selling book in eight consecutive issues, with Rockwell''s Triple Self-Portrait on the cover of the first. In 1961 he received an honorary (obtained without meeting the usual requirements) Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Massachusetts as well as award for his Post cover painting of the Golden Rule. Rockwell's last Post cover (he did three hundred seventeen in all) appeared in December 1963. The magazine's circulation was shrinking at that time, and new management decided to switch to a new format. Rockwell continued painting news pictures for Look and contributing to McCall's.
Norman Rockwell began working with Brown & Bigelow when he created an image for the first Boy Scout calendar. This calendar became one of his largest series of illustrations on a single theme.His calendar paintings for the world jamboree years of 1963 and 1967 both depicted Scouts of various nations joyously united. Rockwell's illustrations almost defined America in the middle part of the 20th century; they certainly helped define Scouting. His career spanned nearly the whole history of the Boy Scouts to date, encompassing an age during which both America and the Boy Scouts grew immensely. Under exclusive authorization from the Boy Scouts of America, Brown & Bigelow commissioned 50 paintings in this series through 1976.
He painted more illustrations for Brown & Bigelow calendars than for any other medium except the Saturday Evening Post. For the Boy Scout stamp, Rockwell brought 14-year old Thorton Percival of Stockbridge, Massachusetts into his studio in Scout uniform to be his model. Thorton was 14 years old at the time. This stamp became one of the most popular U.S. stamps with a printing of over 139 million.
In the sixties, Rockwell's focus broadened to include many more minority and foreign Scouts. Rockwell worked on special stamps for the Postal Service as well as posters for the Treasury Department, the military, and Hollywood movies. Beginning in 1948, his series of “Four Seasons” illustrations featured four images each year following characters through a complete year of changing seasons.
Norman Rockwell's heartwarming illustrations of American life appeared on covers of the Saturday Evening Post magazine for many years. When people use the expression "as American as apple pie," they could just as well say "as American as a Norman Rockwell painting". The pictures of NORMAN ROCKWELL were recognized and loved by almost everybody in America. The cover of The Saturday Evening Post was his showcase for over forty years, giving him an audience larger than that of any other artist in history. Over the years he depicted a unique collection of Americana, a series of vignettes of remarkable warmth and humor. In addition, he painted a great number of pictures for story illustrations, advertising campaigns, posters, calendars, and books. For over a half century Norman Rockwell recorded the history of America with a paintbrush giving people images of the special moments they cherish most in life. Today the appeal of his art endures because he was a master at capturing the humor and humanity of ordinary people engaged in everyday living. Norman Rockwell may very well be America’s most beloved and well-known artist. He also did illustrations for Sears mail-order catalogs, Hallmark greeting cards, and books such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
NORMAN ROCKWELL was proud of his chosen profession as an illustrator. He was a skilled storyteller whose painterly images were made for the rapidly changing era of mass media. The people adored his work, and Rockwell cared about his public. Receiving fan mail by the bagful, he was the people's artist. At a time when many viewers stared in bemusement at Pablo Picasso's fractured shapes and at Jackson Pollock's dribbled paint, Rockwell was an artist they understood because he so clearly understood them. Considered a modest, retiring man, not given to grand gestures, Norman impressed himself on America's collective imagination by his stubborn adherence to the old values. His ability to relate these values to the events and circumstances of a rapidly changing world made him a special person—both hero and friend—to millions of his compatriots. He is the most popular American artist of this century. The themes of his work define a turbulent period that opened with barefoot boys lazing away summer afternoons in the countryside and ended with their sons stepping cautiously onto the surface of the moon. He chronicled times: the change from parental paddling to ... His ability to "get the point across" in one picture, and his flair for painstaking detail made him a favorite of the advertising industry.
He has consistently offered to popular American culture a fresh, immediately understandable vision of others to which others may aspire or with which others may relax in reassuring recognition. He painted a selectively positive vision of the everyday life he lived, consistently using friends, relatives, and neighbors as his models.
For these visions, Norman Rockwell, we salute you.
The artist died in 1978 at the age of 84.
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Copyright held by Curtis Publishing Company
Courtesy of The Norman Rockwell Museum