1894 - 1978
Born in New York City, Rockwell spent his childhood and adolescence there, with significant summer excursions into the country. He felt a strong sense of connectedness not only with nature, but also with the people who had chosen to live 'on nature's terms.' Rockwell's early inspiration to draw and paint came from his father, an avid Sunday painter. It also came indirectly from his grandfather's primitive canvases of bucolic barnyard scenes. He studied painting at the newly formed Arts Students League where he was taught anatomical accuracy by George Bridgeman and learned composition from Thomas Fogarty.
The most popular and fashionable illustrators of the time, N.C. Wyeth, J.C. Leyendecker, Maxfield Parrish and Howard Pyle, were powerful influences on Norman Rockwell's development as an artist. Among the paintings by other artists hanging in his studio were several Pyles, a Leyendecker and a Parrish. The Parrish is a self-portrait of the artist sitting at his easel in profile. It is thought that the logo of the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, derived from "The Triple Self-Portrait", was directly inspired by that Parrish work. Another such example is his "Shave and a Haircut"(1940), taken directly from James Montgomery Flagg'’s "A Man of Affairs" (1913). In Rockwell's early years, he studied every magazine with Howard Pyle's illustrations. His admiration for J. C. Leyendecker was obsessive. In 1915, after completing his studies in New York City, Rockwell moved to New Rochelle just to be near Leyendecker.
At 22 Rockwell sold his first cover piece to The Saturday Evening Post - a prized commission for an illustrator. It was the beginning of a 323-cover relationship between Rockwell and the Post.
In a sense, Rockwell was the last of the 19th-century genre painters, but one who came into his creative powers at a time when a new audience and market was opening up. Mass-circulated national magazines with great popularity catapulted certain artists into millions of households weekly and Rockwell clearly had the right talent at the right time. In the 1920s and 1930s, his work developed great breadth and greater character. His use of humor, which had already been developed in the character of 'Cousin Reginald' (a young boy who was always prim and proper), became an important part of his work. It was a technique he used effectively to draw the viewer into the composition to share the magic.
Rockwell was constantly seeking new ideas and new faces in his daily life. He wrote that everything he had ever seen or done had gone into his pictures. He painted not only the scenes and people close to him but, in a quest for authenticity, would approach total strangers and ask them to sit for him. His internal art of 'storytelling' became integrated with his external skills as an artist. What emerged was what we know today as an incredible facility in judging the perfect moment; when to stop the action, snap the picture...when all the elements that define and embellish a total story are in place.
In 1936, Editor George Horace Lorimer retired from The Saturday Evening Post, and the second of two successive editors, Ben Hibbs, altered the circular format of the cover. Hibbs permitted Norman Rockwell to create with more freedom within a different cover layout. The new mood of both the magazine and the country was reflected in Rockwell's work, as he used the entire cover, unconfined by borders and logos, to express himself.
In the 1940s, Rockwell moved to Arlington, Vermont, where he started to paint the full-canvas paintings that are increasingly treasured by collectors. With Grandma Moses as a friend and neighbor and local townspeople as his models, Rockwell became a living part of Americana - a national treasure. His painting "The Bridge Game" is from this period and captures the players from a unique overhead perspective. Norman Rockwell was acutely aware of his goals as an artist and his lack of critical acceptance. During World War II, Rockwell joined the legion of artists and writers involved in the war effort to help boost the sale of savings bonds. He tried to explain through his art what the war was all about. The result of his efforts was the series called 'The Four Freedoms': first rejected by the US Government, then printed as posters to sell war bonds.
In the 1960s, from his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, Rockwell struck out in a new direction. Though by then his reputation was rooted in the evocation of nostalgia, he boldly tackled political issues. "‘The Peace Corps in Ethiopia" captured the idealism of the Kennedy years in a realistic setting.
In 1962, Rockwell was quoted in Esquire magazine as saying: "I call myself an illustrator but I am not an illustrator. Instead, I paint storytelling pictures which are quite popular but unfashionable." "Unfashionable" was a misnomer; his works were in fact very popular. He was extremely sensitive to the way the art world as well as the public judged him. "No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all of his talent, all of his feeling into them. If illustration is not considered art, then that is something that we have brought upon ourselves by not considering ourselves artists. I believe that we should say, "I am not just an illustrator, I am an artist."
Rockwell's work truly reflected the currents of American life and times, from his earliest drawings to the patriotic themes of World War II to more politically oriented themes in his later years. His genius was in being able to capture the essence of what is now considered largely 'an America vanished.' His Post covers captured the emotions of the times, not only that which was, but also what people would have liked life to be. Yet one look at an original Rockwell painting will make apparent the quality of his technique, style, and craftsmanship.