Oil's First Century by Norman Rockwell

  • The history of the petroleum industry is glimpsed in this charming illustration by Norman Rockwell
  • The iconic illustrator was commissioned to paint the work by the American Petroleum Institute
  • It was composed in 1959 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the oil industry
  • The scene embodies Rockwell's gift for capturing the essence of American life
  • Get complete item description here
Item No. 30-5735

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Norman Rockwell
1894-1978 | American

Oil's First Century

Signed “Norman Rockwell” (lower right)
Oil on canvas

"Rockwell painted the American dream - better than anyone."-Steven Spielberg

A charming relic of a bygone era, this rare oil is the work of the inimitable American illustrator Norman Rockwell. The iconic artist’s ability to render the details and nuances of everyday life is on full display in this original advertisement, which was executed by Rockwell in 1959 as a commission for the American Petroleum Institute. Designed to commemorate the centennial of the birth of the nation’s oil industry, the brilliant illustration brings together the three faces that made its success possible: the oil extraction technician, the scientist and the friendly service station attendant.

Rockwell’s final printed illustration included the slogan “Oil’s First Century 1859-1959: Born in Freedom. Working for Progress.” and accompanied the issuance of four-cent stamps commemorating the petroleum industry’s centennial. Filled with cultural significance, this painting communicates the rich history of the energy industry in the United States. The proud faces of his subjects and the exquisite composition of the piece perfectly demonstrate how Rockwell was able to capture in a single portrait the essence of an industry.

Rockwell's ability to capture the character of the nation was prized not only by magazine art editors but also by advertisers. Nearly all major magazines of the day called upon Rockwell for his outstanding compositions, including Literary Digest, Life, Country Gentleman, Look and the iconic Saturday Evening Post. 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.

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 foremost American illustrator of the 20th century. 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. His distinguished career earned him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977, the highest honor bestowed upon an American civilian.

This important work is pictured on page 256 of Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Volume I, by Laurie Norton Moffatt and on page 74 of Western Pennsylvania's Oil Heritage, 2008, by C.E. Williams.

Canvas: 18” high x 36” wide
Frame: 22 1/2” high x 40 1/2” wide

L. Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Volume I, 1986.
P. Hastings Falk, Who Was Who in American Art, 1985.
This illustration by Norman Rockwell commemorates the centennial anniversary of the oil industry
Maker: Rockwell, Norman
Period: 1919-Present
Origin: America
Type: Paintings
Style: Illustration
Canvas Width: 36 Inches
Canvas Height: 18 Inches
This illustration by Norman Rockwell commemorates the centennial anniversary of the oil industry
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