Rockwell, Norman

from The New Book of Knowledge®

ART HISTORY ON DEMAND > Artists

Norman Rockwell was a leading American illustrator whose professional career spanned more than 60 years. He was most famous for the hundreds of covers he painted for the Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell specialized in lifelike portrayals of ordinary Americans in everyday situations. His accurate powers of observation and gentle humor gave point to his work.

Rockwell was born in New York City on February 3, 1894. He was the son of a businessman who liked to read the works of Charles Dickens to his children. His grandfather had been an unsuccessful English artist. Rockwell showed an early talent for drawing and painting. While still attending the Art Students League in New York City, he became a commercial artist and illustrator. In 1916 his work began to appear in the Saturday Evening Post. From that time on he was counted among the first rank of American illustrators.

Rockwell's early cover paintings often featured children, elderly people, and dogs in amusing situations. He continued to draw and paint similar subjects throughout his career. During World War I (1914-18), he served in the Navy. But he continued to work for the Post and other clients. In the 1920's he made a number of trips to Europe and was briefly influenced by modern art. He quickly returned to his realistic style. But he continued to admire Picasso and other modern artists.

Rockwell reached new heights during World War II (1939-45). This was when his famous series of paintings The Four Freedoms (1943), celebrating democracy, toured the country. From that time until the early 1960's, he was at the peak of his powers. The best paintings of those years are important contributions to the tradition of realist painting in America. Examples include Breaking Home Ties (1954) and Marriage License (1955).

Rockwell's later paintings show well-drawn characters in detailed settings. These settings are often in corners of his beloved New England. Many of these paintings recorded an America that was vanishing even as he portrayed it on canvas. It was part of his genius that he gave his vast audience a link with the past at a time when the world was changing rapidly. Yet he did this without losing sight of the everyday events of modern life.

In the last years of his life, Rockwell traveled all over the world, from Mexico to Mongolia. He painted wherever he went. But his roots remained in the northeastern United States. He died in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1978.

Christopher Finch
Author, Norman Rockwell's America

 

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