first knew and loved Norman Rockwell's art as it appeared on and between the
covers of America's most popular magazines. These magazine covers,
advertisements, and illustrations are the heart of the collection here at
the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Rockwell painted for publication. He once said, "I don't want to paint for the few who can see a canvas in a museum, for I believe that in a democracy art belongs to the people. I want my pictures to be published". So Rockwell's art had to be understandable to millions of people and it had to conform to the limits of space, of deadlines, and of editorial policy imposed by the printed page. Our exhibit shows how Rockwell met these exacting requirements.
The Saturday Evening Post covers with which most people are familiar represent a fraction of Rockwell's art. He also painted covers for such forgotten magazines as Judge, Leslie's, The Literary Digest, The Country Gentlemen, and a host of others.
Though Rockwell loved doing these covers, his bread-and-butter was his advertising. He received twice as much for an ad as he did for a cover, and his art sold products as diverse as socks and steel. Illustrators of Rockwell's day were respected for their knowledge of public taste. For the most part, the companies left it to Rockwell's discretion as to how to sell their goods or services.
Also overshadowed by Rockwell's Post covers are his illustrations for novels, short stories, and articles. In these pictures, where Rockwell interprets an author's idea, his art is often remarkably different in style and composition.
Rockwell's art made him a celebrity. Twice he judged the Miss America Beauty Pageant. He endorsed products such as after-shave lotion, wine, and tombstones. Articles by and about Rockwell and his family appeared in newspapers and magazines.
Few magazines of today regularly use illustrations. Photography has replaced the art. Given these circumstances, it is doubtful that we will see again an illustrator of Norman Rockwell's talent and popularity.
Norman Rockwell was born February 3, 1894 in New York City. His father was an office manager and an amateur artist. His mother was the daughter of an English painter who had made a living selling cheap copies of his work.
Though not sickly, Rockwell was thin, poorly coordinated, and needed glasses and corrective shoes. He also showed an early aptitude for art, and his minor physical problems played a major role in his desire to become an artist.
Rockwell left high school in his sophomore year to study art. With the help of his instructors, he got his first job in 1911 illustrating a children's' book. This led to other assignments, including the position of Art Editor with Boys' Life. In 1916, he sold his first cover to The Saturday Evening Post. He married soon afterward.
The 1920's were active years for Rockwell. He traveled extensively, built a studio in New Rochelle, New York, and, in general, lived the life of the well-known and well-paid illustrator that he was. By the end of the decade, however, he was divorced and was having doubt, about the quality of his work. After he remarried, he recaptured his enthusiasm for his work and discovered that his best years were still ahead of him.
In 1939, Rockwell, his wife, Mary, and their three sons moved to Arlington, Vermont. Rockwell enjoyed the company of his rural neighbors, many of whom became his best models and his most honest critics. He seemed to have found his spiritual home.
But In 1953 the Rockwells moved suddenly to Stockbridge, Massachusetts because of Mary's illness. There Rockwell continued his work. Mary died in 1959 and a lonely Rockwell remarried in 1961.
His association with the Post ended in 1963 but he continued to accept assignments from magazines such as Look, McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal as well as from advertisers almost until his death in 1978. "He died," in the words of his third wife, Molly, "of being 84 years old."