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Rockwellesque

about Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell was a prolific artist, producing more than four thousand original works in his lifetime. Most of his works are either in public collections, or have been destroyed in fire or other misfortunes. He also was commissioned to illustrate more than forty books, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. His annual contributions for the Boy Scouts calendars between 1925 and 1976 — Rockwell was a 1939 recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy Scouts of America —, were only slightly overshadowed by his most popular of calendar works: the Four Seasons illustrations for Brown & Bigelow that were published for seventeen years beginning in 1947 and reproduced in various styles and sizes since 1964. He painted six images for Coca-Cola advertising. Illustrations for booklets, catalogs, posters — particularly movie promotions —, sheet music, stamps, playing cards, and murals.

During his career, he painted wonderful Christmas paintings for the Saturday Evening Post and other December magazines, becoming almost synonymous with Christmas. Several of these paintings were gathered in book form and became best sellers at Christmas time.

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Unfortunately, Norman’s work was dismissed by serious art critics in his lifetime. Many of his works appear overly sweet in the opinion of modern critics, especially the Saturday Evening Post covers, which tend toward idealistic or sentimentalized portrayals of American life. This has led to the often-deprecatory adjective, “Rockwellesque”. Consequently, Norman is not considered a “serious painter” by some contemporary artists, who regard his work as bourgeois and kitsch.

Vladimir Nabokov sneered that his brilliant technique was put to “banal” use, and wrote in his book Pnin: “That Dalí is really Norman Rockwell’s twin brother kidnapped by Gypsies in babyhood”. He is called an “illustrator” instead of an artist by some critics, a designation he did not mind, as that was what he called himself.

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In his later years, however, Norman began receiving more attention as a painter when he chose more serious subjects such as the series on racism for Look magazine.

One example of this more serious work is The Problem We All Live With, which dealt with the issue of school racial integration. The painting depicts a young black girl, Ruby Bridges, flanked by white federal marshals, walking to school past a wall defaced by racist graffiti. This painting was displayed in the White House when Bridges met with President Obama in 2011.

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