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Norman Rockwell
American Illustrator and Painter

1894 - 1978

I showed the America I knew and observed
   to others who might not have noticed.

                                         —Norman Rockwell

Norman Percevel Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894, the second son of Nancy and Waring Rockwell. He and his brother Jarvis lived in New York City until Norman was 9 years old at which point they moved to the suburban commuter town of Mamaroneck. Norman left high school early to return to New York City, settling at the Arts Student League to study art where his discipline, hard work, and sense of humor were widely recognized. As a student Norman was given small illustration jobs, but his major breakthrough came in 1912 with his first book illustration for C.H. Claudy's Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature. By 1913 he was art editor for Boy's Life and just 19 years old.

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.

It has often been said that Norman provided a commodity that people could rely on. This is clearly reflected in more than 4,000 illustrations completed throughout his 47 year career. He is best known for his contributions to the Saturday Evening Post for whom he produced 332 covers, beginning in 1916. It is noteworthy that the Post could automatically increase its print order by 250,000 copies when an issue had a cover by Rockwell.

Eighty magazines used his cover illustrations but, by far, no paintings by an American were ever published on such a global scale as Rockwell's "Four Freedoms." First appearing in the Post, the originals were used by the United States Treasury in a 16 city tour seen by 1,222,000 people who purchased over $133,000,000 in war bonds.

Norman's ability 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 Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. His annual contributions for the Boy Scout calendars (1925 - 1976), was only slightly overshadowed by his most popular of calendar works - the "Four Seasons" illustrations for Brown & Bigelow 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, was completed in 1936 for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey) rounded out Rockwell's oeuvre 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 magazine.

Christopher Finch, author and art curator, had this to say: "Norman Rockwell created a world that, because of its traditional elements, seems familiar to all of us, yet is recognizably his and his alone. He is an American original who left his mark not by effecting radical change but rather by giving old subjects his own, inimitable inflection. His career has been an ode to the ordinary, a triumph of common sense and understatement."

Rockwell made no secret of his lifetime preference for countrified realism . . . "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." His time spent in the country was a great influence on his idyllic approach to storytelling on canvas. From 1953 until his death in 1978, Norman lived at Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where there is a museum devoted to him.

Although Norman Rockwell was always at odds with contemporary notions of what an artist should be, he chose to paint life as he wanted to see it. His themes and unique style have passed the test of time making him the best known of all American artists.

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  Other Artists in the Lucidcafé Library

  Books About Norman Rockwell

  Videos About Norman Rockwell

  Related Websites

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Copyright © 1995-2016 Robin Chew
Article written by Norman Vaux - August 2002