The American Experience
No other artist has captured the essence of the American experience quite like Norman Rockwell. Even in the early stages of his career, the aspect that distinguished his work was that it was about the Everyman, providing a chronicle of the simple joys, awkward moments and trying circumstances that give our lives depth.
“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.”
— Norman Rockwell
Rockwell found success at an early age. He completed his first commission for a series of Christmas cards before he was 16. By 17, he illustrated his first children's book, and at 22, he had earned his first Saturday Evening Post cover, published May 20, 1916. His work with the Post had skyrocketed his reputation, and before long, the young artist (though he was more confident referring to himself an illustrator rather than an artist) attained the rank of national celebrity. Though many changes occurred over the six decades he painted, the common thread that connects each and every work is the genuine, unmistakable sentimentality that makes Rockwell's art stand out from all others.
The iconic artist’s ability to capture the charm and innocence of childhood is on full display in this original work, which was executed by Rockwell in 1960 as a commission for the Mars Candy Company. Designed to showcase the company's bestselling candy bar, the Milky Way, the delightful illustration was composed for the company's annual customer Christmas card. Mars Candy was among innumerable companies who called on his genius for seamlessly integrating products into his idealized world, a talent which made him a favorite of the advertising industry.
"I don't want to paint for the few who can see a canvas in a museum,
for I believe that in a democracy art belongs to the people."
— Norman Rockwell
Rich or poor, young or old, male or female, anyone could personally identify with each painting Rockwell composed. Rockwell found inspiration in daily life and the events that touched every individual, regardless of their place in society. Both technically superb and emotionally powerful, Rockwell's paintings capture the resilience and beauty that is the American spirit.
A wide-eyed college graduate is the subject of this monumental original oil. Entitled The Graduate, the work was featured on the June 6, 1959, cover of the Saturday Evening Post, and represents one of just a handful of works in which he used his own son, Tom, as the model. Standing over 6 feet tall, The Graduate is also one of Rockwell's largest compositions, perhaps attesting to the affection and pride the Rockwell felt towards his son.
Tapping into the collective sentimentality of the American people, Norman Rockwell led a very long and incredibly successful career as an artist. While history was in the making all around him, Rockwell chose to fill his canvases with the small details and nuances of ordinary people in everyday life. Rockwell said himself, “Without thinking too much about it in specific terms, I was showing America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.” Mythical, idealistic, and innocent, his paintings evoke a longing for a time and place that existed in his rich imagination and in the hopes and aspirations of the nation.
Rockwell tapped into the nostalgia of the American people and his ability to create visual stories that expressed the desires of a nation helped to clarify and, in a sense, create that nation’s vision. While history was in the making all around him, Rockwell chose to fill his canvases with the small details and nuances of ordinary people in everyday life. Taken together, his many paintings capture the essence of the American spirit. “I paint life as I would like it to be,” Rockwell once said. Mythical, idealistic, and innocent, his paintings evoke a longing for a time and place that existed in his rich imagination and in the hopes and aspirations of the nation.
When Rockwell created this cover illustration, entitled Delivering Two Busts, in 1931, Americans were two years into the Great Depression, with no respite in sight. At a time when jobs were scarce and paychecks were small, many Americans took any job that came their way. This illustration suggests his subject is not a delivery man by choice, but rather a victim of the Depression who lost his original job like so many others across the country. The newspaper, haphazardly tossed on the ground at his feet, implies an unsuccessful job search, furthered by his slouched posture as he holds two busts for delivery.
The busts themselves are wonderful portraits, delicately rendered to portray the Venus de Milo on the left, and Apollo on the right. In part, it is the genius juxtaposition of these two figures of ideal classical beauty to the rather earnest but plain face of the deliveryman that is the focus of Rockwell’s satire. This is truly a comparison of the ideal to the real, perhaps indicating the hopes of the people versus the reality of the nation. As the visual chronicler of his age, Rockwell’s paintings showed that times were not easy. Yet, with his uncanny talent to capture the poetry in everyday life, in this painting, the artist gives both a glimpse of his lighthearted humor as well as his quintessential “Yankee” conviction that despite times being tough, “this too shall pass.” Endurance will triumph.
A Lasting Legacy
Displaying the artist’s celebrated style, this remarkable work is a well-executed preliminary study for Rockwell's 1971 Boy Scouts of America poster. The work represents the culmination of over 60 years of illustrations that the legendary American painter composed for the organization during his career. His idyllic vision of American life made him the ideal visual spokesman for the Boy Scouts. This exceptional composition represents the inclusive spirit and lasting values of the youth organization, perfectly rendered with a distinctive Rockwellian charm.
For this 1971 commission, Rockwell successfully evokes the popular Boy Scout slogan "America's manpower begins with BOYPOWER," which was developed as part of a 1968 campaign to increase membership. The piece is dedicated to the American illustrator Joseph Csatari, then-art director of the Brown & Bigelow Scout calendar. Csatari eventually succeeded Rockwell as the "official artist" of the Boy Scouts of America in 1977, and the dedication is a testament to the illustrator's mentor-mentee relationship.
Rockwell led a very long and incredibly successful career as an artist and illustrator for numerous companies and publications. For much of the 20th century, his poignant paintings became the visual identity of the Saturday Evening Post, with 322 of his works featured on the cover, plus numerous others used for illustrations inside. Nearly all major magazines of the day called upon Rockwell for his outstanding compositions, including Literary Digest, Life, Country Gentleman, and Look. Rockwell's distinguished career earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, the highest honor bestowed upon an American civilian.
"Rockwell painted the American dream - better than anyone."
To view the collection of works by Norman Rockwell, click here.