1894-1978 | American
My Mother (Soldier with French Woman)
Life magazine cover, December 19, 1918
Signed “Norman Rockwell” (lower right)
Oil on canvas laid on board
A classic early work from the American master of illustration, Norman Rockwell, this endearing oil was featured on the December 19, 1918 cover of Life, a widely-read general interest magazine from the 20th century. It was executed just a month after the Allied victory during World War I, and it aptly captures the emotions of a victorious nation that is still reeling from the effects of war. Distinctively Rockwellian in style, the composition presents not just a portrait of a soldier, but also an emotional narrative that deftly captured the spirit of the nation.
Although the armistice to end World War I was signed on November 11, 1918, it took six months of Allied negotiations to conclude the peace treaty that became known as the Treaty of Versailles. In America, families were eager for the return of their sons, husbands and brothers who had been fighting overseas. In My Mother (Soldier with French Woman), Rockwell captures one such soldier, the Doughboy infantryman Private Sammy Smith, avidly showing a photograph of his mother to a French woman. Depicted in Rockwell's interpretation of a traditional French costume, she presumably represents the matriarch of the family with whom Sammy was staying in France. Much like his celebrated Willie Gillis series composed during World War II, My Mother gave a human face to war, and through these compositions, Rockwell successfully communicated a strong moral compass for the nation.
The important work was formerly in the collection of Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett, the famed television producers responsible for the likes of Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Full House. Thus, the work represents a fascinating artistic dialogue between three of America's most important storytellers of the 20th century.
Norman Rockwell led a very long and incredibly successful career as an artist. His first commission was painted when he was only 16 years old, and his irresistible paintings of American life made him the greatest American illustrator of the 20th century. Rockwell said himself, “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.” For over seven decades, he captured the attention of millions of Americans with his innumerable magazine cover illustrations, from the Saturday Evening Post to American Life and Country Gentleman. Rockwell’s distinguished career earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, the highest honor bestowed upon an American civilian.
Painted in 1918
Canvas: 20 7/8” high x 18 7/8” wide
Frame: 28 1/8” high x 26” wide
Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalog of the Artist’s Work 1910-1978, Indianapolis, 1979, by M. Moline, fig. 1-67, p. 26 (illustrated)
Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, 1986, by L.N. Moffatt, no. C108, p. 41 (illustrated)
Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell From the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, New York, 2010, by V.M. Mecklenburg, pp. 47, 194
Goldfield Galleries, Los Angeles
Fitch-Febvrel Gallery, New York (acquired from the above in January 1998)
Collection of Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett, 1998
M.S. Rau, New Orleans