Tuesday, May 21, 2013

American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell

One of the most popular American artists of the past century, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was a keen observer of human nature and a gifted storyteller. His paintings graced more than 300 covers of the popular Saturday Evening Post magazine and he is one of the best-loved illustrators in the history of American art. A traveling exhibition of Rockwell’s paintings opened at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Saturday, March 9. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell features 50 original Norman Rockwell paintings and a complete set of all 323 of Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers, and will be on view through May 27.

Freedom from Want
The timelessness and emotion of Rockwell’s work draws every generation. This exhibition explores his themes of family (“Freedom from Want” and

Christmas Homecoming”),


(“Girl at Mirror”),

and hometown heroism

(“Mine America’s Coal”)

that permeate Rockwell’s work. His unique artistic legacy offers a personal chronicle of 20th-century life and aspirations that has both reflected and profoundly influenced American perceptions and ideals.br>

The exhibition also includes beloved and well-known images, including

Triple Self-Portrait (1960),

Going and Coming (1947),

“Art Critic,” Norman Rockwell, 1955. Oil on canvas, 39 _ x 36 _ in. Cover illustration for “The Saturday Evening Post,“ April 16, 1955. ©1955 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.

and The Art Critic (1955)
. Also included are portraits of presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

Rockwell’s paintings narrate life with love, affection, and humor, and he used these uplifting sentiments effectively while creating commercial and advertising work during his 47-year tenure at the “Saturday Evening Post.”

“The Problem We All Live With,” Norman Rockwell, 1963. Oil on canvas, 36 x 58 in. Illustration for “Look,” January 14, 1964. Licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL. Norman Rockwell Museum Collections.

Then, in 1964, Rockwell used his illustrative and storytelling skills at “Look” magazine to illuminate social issues such as war, racism, poverty, and injustice. His January 14, 1964 cover, “The Problem We All Live With,” documented the traumatic realities of desegregation in the South. The painting still receives national acclaim and was recently on display at the White House at the request of President Obama to commemorate the event that inspired Rockwell to create the bold illustration: the 50th anniversary of Ruby Bridges’ history-changing walk on November 14, 1960 that integrated the William Frantz Public School in New Orleans.

American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass.

Exhibition Overview:

“Rockwell’s images helped bring art to a broad segment of the public,” said Kevin Murphy, Crystal Bridges curator of American art. “His illustrations are so recognizable and popular that they helped make painted images part of mainstream visual culture.”

The exhibition also includes materials from the Norman Rockwell Museum’s archives demonstrating how the artist worked: proceeding from preliminary sketches, color studies, and detailed drawings to finished paintings. Also included are several posed and costumed photographs Rockwell staged as references for the figures in his paintings, often using himself and family members as models. In addition, the exhibition points out some of the artistic and cultural references that were often encoded in Rockwell’s work.

“Rockwell understood his place in popular culture of the time,” explained Murphy. “He understood that he had been adopted as an interpreter of the American dream, and he wanted his work to engage in the larger tradition of Western art, so he would put in references to great works of art through history. Sometimes they’re obvious, sometimes they’re not. It was a way for him to connect with great art of the past.”

Over time, Rockwell’s illustrations have come to symbolize an idealized American dream; representing the hopes and ideals of a bygone era. However, Rockwell was keenly aware of the social and political issues of his time. Murder in Mississippi, an illustration for Look magazine about the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers, showcases his engagement with the civil rights struggle. The magazine eventually chose to use a preliminary sketch for publication, rather than the final painting. The original unpublished painting, as well as the oil sketch used for publication, are both included in this exhibition.

American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell presents an opportunity for families to talk, across generations, about the works and what they meant to readers of the Saturday Evening Post in the post-World War II era.

“Rockwell’s artwork is highly recognizable to a large audience—even if they have had limited opportunities to visit art museums,” said Crystal Bridges Director of Education and Exhibitions Niki Stewart. “By bringing American Chronicles to Crystal Bridges, we are creating an opportunity for people of many generations to see the original artworks, learn more about Rockwell’s process, and enjoy something that is both familiar and fascinating.”