Norman Rockwell - Body of Work

Body of Work

Norman Rockwell was a prolific artist, producing over 4,000 original works in his lifetime. Most of his works are either in public collections, or have been destroyed in fire or other misfortunes. Rockwell was also commissioned to illustrate over 40 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 17 years beginning in 1947 and reproduced in various styles and sizes since 1964. Illustrations for booklets, catalogs, posters (particularly movie promotions), sheet music, stamps, playing cards, and murals (including "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "God Bless the Hills", which was completed in 1936 for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey) rounded out Rockwell's œuvre as an illustrator.

In 1969, as a tribute to Rockwell's 75th-year birthday, officials of Brown & Bigelow and the Boy Scouts of America asked Rockwell to pose in Beyond the Easel, the calendar illustration that year.

Rockwell's work was dismissed by serious art critics in his lifetime. Many of his works appear overly sweet in modern critics' eyes, 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, Rockwell is not considered a "serious painter" by some contemporary artists, who often regard his work as bourgeois and kitsch. Writer Vladimir Nabokov sneered that Rockwell's 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 it was what he called himself.

However, in his later years, Rockwell 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 African American girl, Ruby Bridges, flanked by white federal marshals, walking to school past a wall defaced by racist graffiti.

In 1999, The New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl said of Rockwell in ArtNews: “Rockwell is terrific. It’s become too tedious to pretend he isn’t.”

Rockwell's work was exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in 2001. Rockwell's Breaking Home Ties sold for $15.4 million at a 2006 Sotheby’s auction. A twelve-city U.S. tour of Rockwell's works took place in 2008.

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