Tuesday, November 4, 2008

NORMAN ROCKWELL: THE LITERARY DIGEST


Isaac Kauffman Funk and Adam Willis Wagnalls, both Lutheran pastors, brought out The Literary Digest, "a repository of contemporaneous thought and research as presented in the periodical literature of the world." The Literary Digest amended its formula in 1905 to include newspaper comment on news more mundane than "thought and research." In ten years its circulation stepped up to 400,000.
(Source: answers.com)
In the early 20s The Literary Digest had become one of the greatest publishing successes in history. Its weekly juxtaposition of contrary newspaper opinion and cartoons had won it 1,400,000 readers, made it a national institution, a schoolroom textbook, a gold mine for its publishers, Funk & Wagnalls Co. No small part of its prestige came from its famed straw votes, whose ballots were accompanied by profitable subscription appeals. For the best part of a generation these polls forecast national election results with great accuracy. But gift premiums added to straw votes were not sufficient to offset growing public apathy toward editorial opinion. In vain The Literary Digest attempted to make itself over from a digest of opinion to a digest of news.
With a name like The Literary Digest you'd think it was a magazine of book news and reviews, but even in its earlier days it carried news and analysis and opinion articles. Over time it became more like a weekly newsmagazine. At first it presented a cover consisting only of a list of articles and other contents. In the early 1900's it began using painted and drawn covers on a regular basis, though at first it worked with only a few different designs, using them in rotation or for a few weeks. By the 'teens it was giving the reader a new color cover (more or less illustrating some current news) with each issue. By the 1920's it had changed intent again, now running full-color reproductions of famous, or at least comforting, paintings. In its last years it experimented with a variety of photographic and photomontage techniques.
(Source: magazineart.org)


Settling an Argument
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


In this painting, Rockwell depicts two scholarly older men settling an argument by consulting their globe. The scene is the gentleman's study, a serene haven from the interruption of the outside world. This particular study is filled with books, seen in shelves on the wall and also on the table. Also seen on the table are pictures of famous figures in history. There is also a skull paperweight. One gentleman holds a magnifying glass to the North American side of the globe. He also holds a copy of The Literary Digest. It seems that an article in The Digest either started this particular argument or will be used to settle this argument. It does seem odd that, in a room full of books, these gentlemen are consulting a weekly opinion magazine for an answer. It is not known whether The Digest commissioned the painting or Rockwell painted it speculatively, hoping The Digest would take it. The other gentleman looks over his friend's shoulder. He awaits his turn with the globe, perhaps to prove his point.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


Man on Dock Fishing
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


Rockwell evokes memories of a lazy summer day spent fishing with this painting. The heat of the summer sun is apparent on both characters, the man and the dog. The dog is enjoying the sunshine and taking a nap. The pipe-smoking fisherman is hot and probably uncomfortable. And why wouldn't he be hot since he is wearing long pants, long sleeves and a dark vest. His straw hat is tilted back, showing that he is trying to cool off a little. He has already caught two fish and has them hanging from the dock. He has enjoyed success using his old cane pole baited with worms he dug himself and carried in an old tin can. He has not put the fish in the water to keep them fresher. Maybe he was concerned that they would be scaring off the other fish. Or maybe Rockwell just wanted them in the painting.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


Spectators at a Parade
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


Memorial Day 1921 was celebrated on May 30. Rockwell painted this picture to remind The Literary Digest readers that Memorial Day was the following Monday. A family attends a Memorial Day parade. Mother, father, son and daughter are all showing that they remember the soldiers and sailors who gave their lives in war. They watch as a soldier carries the flag by where they are standing. We see his shadow in the foreground. The family stands behind a red, white and blue blockade. Both children are waving flags. Father has removed his hat and wears a proud look on his face. Mother looks wistful. Possibly she had lost a family member in the recent war. In the background, an older couple looks on. The older man has removed his hay also. In the far background, we see a white building (the White House?) with a flag flaying from a flagpole on its roof. Rockwell was a master at portraying current events on canvas.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


The Toy Maker
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


Rockwell takes us into the world of making toys in this illustration. Of course, anyone who likes painting children as much as Rockwell could hardly resist this topic. This issue was published just before the Christmas season. Retailers had not lengthened the Christmas season into two and a half months in the 1920's. The toy maker has just finished another toy in this painting. The paint on the toy isn't even dry yet. He still holds the paint brush in one hand. His helper, the young boy, holds the paint can for him. The amazed look on the little girl's face and the stance of the dog confirm that this toy is indeed moving. The red and white bowling pins attached to his hands are most likely spinning around. His carving tools are one the table. Red and white paint splotches are on the floor. Satisfaction covers the kindly old toy maker's face. The little girls contentment is all the gratification he needs.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


At the End of the Working Day
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


This painting shows us the typical commuter rush at the end of the working day. Everyone is trying to get home as quickly as possible. Yet they seem considerate of their fellow commuters. No pushing. No shoving. Just making their way home. The glow of the sunset off of the left side of the canvas illuminates their faces. The commuters get to enjoy the sunset and the warmth of the sun on their way home this winter day. Rockwell presents a variety of people in this painting. A schoolboy hurries along with books tucked under his arm. A workman carrying what looks like a huge hammer walks alongside the boy. A fine young lady with fur trimmed coat and fur muff strolls along also carrying a book under her arm. A gentleman in top hat hustles home. A sailor and several businessmen round out Rockwell's crowd of commuters.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


Man Reading Thermometer
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


This painting makes one feel cold in the winter and cool in the summer! Judging by the snowflakes, the wind is blowing fiercely. The snowflakes are blowing across the canvas diagonally. Rockwell paints snowflakes falling by removing paint from the canvas. This technique makes the snowflakes odd shapes with soft edges. The old man in the picture seems chilly as well. His cheeks and nose are becoming visibly flushed. The steam of his breath is clearly visible. His hair, his goatee, even his eyebrows are being windblown. He is looking at the thermometer over his reading glasses. He has one hand on the doorknob to keep the door from being blown open by the fierce wind. With his other hand, he clutches his tobacco pipe. He has been sitting by the fire reading and smoking his pipe. He has decided to check the outside temperature. His look of surprise shows that he didn't realize how cold it was. It was fifteen below zero during the day! The snow has collected on the top of the thermometer, the outside doorknob and in the corners of the door panels. Since Rockwell painted topical themes, we can assume from this painting that the winter of 1920 was a very cold one.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


Story of the Lost Battalion
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


World War I was still not officially over at the time Rockwell painted this cover. The fighting had stopped, but no formal peace declaration had yet been signed. In this painting, we see a soldier and a sailor sitting on a park bench. A boy is standing behind them. The soldier is telling a gripping war story. At his side is a package and his cane. Obviously, he was wounded in battle. He appears to be reliving a hand-to-hand battle, judging by his hands. The sailor seated on the bench is listening intently to the narrative. He probably has war stories to tell as well. The boy is the most interesting character to me. The expression on his face shows his awe for the soldier's story. The boy is experiencing the war vicariously through the soldier.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


Soldier Reunited with Family
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


On January 18, 1919, a peace conference to end World War I was beginning in Versailles, France. The prayers of the whole world were finally being answered. Naturally, Rockwell painted a illustration showing what that meant to the average American. Most Americans were interested in when the soldiers would return home. Americans missed and were concerned about their husbands, sons and fathers fighting overseas. This picture shows the joyful reunion of a returning soldier with his family. The emotion fairly exudes from the painting as the soldier hugs his wife and his mother. In the background, his father looks on happily. He is practically beaming. He is proud of his son for serving his country. He is also relieved to have his sone back home safe again. In the foreground, we see his young son playing soldier, wearing his father's helmet. Rockwell has strummed all our heart strings now. Rockwell has been accused by his detractors of being too sentimental in his work. To this criticism, his fans say "Yes, wonderfully too sentimental." Amen.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)


Boy Showing Off Badges
From best-norman-rockwell-art.com


Rockwell painted three covers for the magazine in 1918. All three were related to World War I. This illustration shows a young boy showing the badges he earned doing his part to help the war effort. He is very proud and whistling to show his happiness. The boy is also showing his patriotism by wearing his red sweater and red, white and blue necktie. Norman Rockwell especially loved painting children. His enthusiasm really shines in this painting.
('Norman Rockwell's The Literary Digest Covers' by Keith McDonald at best-norman-rockwell-art.com)
Most of Rockwell's finest covers are, in effect, anecdotes. With occasional exceptions, he can give us only one scene--an isolated episode--but, in his mature work especially, he knows how to pack that scene with so much significant detail that the events that precede it, and follow from it, are, so to speak, latent in the single image.
Rockwell never seems to have had much trouble sustaining such a rapport. His utopia and that of his audience were, to all intents and purposes, the same thing. He portrayed Americans as they chose to see themselves. It is easier to recognize this in his earlier covers--those painted prior to the late thirties, say--because, with few exceptions, they make no pretense at being anything but stylized representations of situations, amusing or touching, that play some more or less clever variation on an archetypal theme--the vagaries of young love, the compensation of old age, and so forth.
(Source: abbeville.com)



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