"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. My
fundamental purpose is to interpret the typical American. I am a story
teller.” -Norman Rockwell
Norman Rockwell was a 20th century American painter and illustrator. His works enjoy a broad popular appeal in the United States, where Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over more than four decades. Norman Rockwell thought of himself first and foremost a commercial illustrator. Hesitant to consider it art, he harbored deep insecurities about his work. What is unmistakable, however, is that Rockwell tapped into the nostalgia of a people for a time that was kinder and simpler. His ability to create visual stories that expressed the wants of a nation helped to clarify and, in a sense, create that nation's vision.
Norman Rockwell's prolific career spanned the days of horse-drawn carriages to the momentous leap that landed mankind on the moon. 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 something much more elusive and transcendent -- the essence of the American spirit. "I paint life as I would like it to be," Rockwell once said. Mythical, idealistic, innocent, his paintings evoke a longing for a time and place that existed only in the rarefied realm of his rich imagination and in the hopes and aspirations of the nation. According to filmmaker Steven Spielberg, "Rockwell painted the American dream better than anyone."
Norman Rockwell was born in his parent’s Upper West Side Manhattan apartment on February 3, 1894.The second son of businessman Jarvis Waring and Ann Mary Rockwell. As a child Norman would attentively listen to his father read stories as he sketched. During his sophomore year, Norman Rockwell left high school to attend the National Academy of Design. At sixteen, and still a student at the Art Students League, Rockwell painted his first commission of four Christmas cards.
The following year Norman Rockwell accepted his first real job as an artist illustrating the “Tell me Why Stories,” a series of children’s books. Shortly after that he was hired as the art director of “Boys’ Life” magazine, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. Rockwell continued his work with the Scouts, illustrating the official Boy Scout calendar for fifty years.
In 1916 twenty-two year-old Norman Rockwell mustered up some courage and sold his first cover to "The Saturday Evening Post". The picture was of an uncomfortable, young boy wearing a bowler hat, dressed somewhat maturely for his age and diligently pushing a baby carriage past a group of sneering boys in baseball uniforms. The artwork, entitled “Mother’s Day Off,” ran on the cover of the May 20, 1916 issue. That same year he married his first wife, teacher Irene O’Connor. Americans were extremely receptive to Rockwell’s "Saturday Evening Post" covers. In fact, Rockwell went on to create 321 covers for the Post, each portraying typical American life and values. Norman Rockwell's covers were so successful that when his art appeared on the cover, 50,000 – 75,000 additional copies of the Saturday Evening Post sold at newsstands. "The Saturday Evening Post" covers eventually became his greatest legacy.
In 1942, Norman Rockwell painted one his most overtly political and important pieces. In response to a speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt, Rockwell made a series of paintings that dealt with the Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear. During the speech Roosevelt identified four essential human rights that should be universally protected and should serve as a reminder of the American motivation for fighting in World War II. The theme was incorporated into the Atlantic Charter, and it became part of the charter of the United Nations.
Roosevelt's message was as follows: "In the future days which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms."This series is a cornerstone of a retrospective of the career of Rockwell, who was the most widely known contemporary commercial artist of the mid 20th century, but who failed to achieve critical acclaim commensurate with his popularity. These are perhaps Rockwell's most well-known works of art. Throughout the mid-1940s these paintings traveled around the country being shown in conjunction with the sale of bonds.
The “Four Freedoms” were reproduced in four consecutive issues of “The Saturday Evening Post” alongside essays by contemporary American writers. “Freedom of Speech,” “Freedom to Worship,” “Freedom from Want” and “Freedom from Fear” were so successful that the works toured in an exhibition that raised $139.9 million for the war effort through the sales of war bonds. Viewed by more than a million people, their popularity was considered an important part of the war effort at home.
During the late 1940s and 1950s Norman Rockwell continued as one of the most prolific and recognized illustrators in the country. While his allegiance to the Saturday Evening Post remained, he produced work for other magazines including Ladies Home Journal, McCalls. Literary Digest And Look. In the 1960's Rockwell began to exhibit a strong sense of social consciousness. His images, which had primarily dealt with a utopian vision of the country, began to address realistic concerns. "The Problem We All Live With," shows an African-American schoolgirl, escorted by safety officers, walking past a wall smeared with the juices of a thrown tomato.
In addition to civil rights, Rockwell’s later subjects ranged from poverty to the Space Age, from the Peace Corps to the presidents. Norman Rockwell's now nostalgic paintings and illustrations continue to live on in American history, depicting decades of pleasantry and pain.