Norman Rockwell: The Story of a Painting

Norman Rockwell- The Story of a Painting“Norman Rockwell believed that a painting was more than color and form, that it needed to carry a story — “The story is the first thing and the last thing,” he said — and so he painted very few landscapes. He was a meticulous painter of faces, and he toiled long days to get the expressions right, working from photographs of models, directing them as if for a movie, sketching draft after draft, expressing “his interior visions with a level of preciseness that made his painted world all the more compelling.” At a time when painters were making big bold swashes and dripping paint on canvas, trying to make art by sheer force, Rockwell was working up close, ever meticulous. His heroes were Pieter Bruegel, whose “Peasant Dance” (a reproduction) hung over Rockwell’s mantel, and the Dutch masters. He wanted to make ordinary American scenes as Rembrandt might have painted them.

“The artist we know as Norman Rockwell began to emerge clearly in 1938 when he and his second wife, Mary, having lived at the Hotel des Artistes on West 67th in New York and then New Rochelle and then a house in the Seventh Arrondissement in Paris, moved to Arlington, Vt., a town of 1,400 — “He wanted to experience small-town life,” Solomon writes, “to counter a feeling of staleness in his work, to work with new models. Models who were not models, just ordinary people devoid of pretense.”

“In the summer of 1942, eager to contribute to the war effort, Rockwell went to the Office of War Information, the propaganda agency in Washington, with sketches for posters illustrating the four freedoms laid out by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a speech to Congress — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from fear, freedom from want — and was turned away. The agency wasn’t interested in illustrators; they wanted real artists. So he took the idea to The Saturday Evening Post, which accepted it. It took him seven months to paint his “Four Freedoms” pictures — a Lincolnesque workingman standing up and speaking at a town meeting, a cluster of profiles of persons in prayer, a mother and father watching over two sleeping children, a family gathered around the Thanksgiving table — which appeared in The Post and drew sacks of fan mail and was used by the Treasury to sell war bonds. The O.W.I., which had turned him down the year before, put out two and a half million “Four Freedoms” posters. “He now became enshrined as America’s leading Painter-Patriot,” Solomon writes. “In the eyes of millions of Americans, his scenes . . . amounted to an inspired defense of national values, a pictorial rebuke to fascists the world over.” -NY Times

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