Norman Rockwell Portrays the Joy of American Life

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Synopsis

Norman Rockwell was an illustrator, painter, and author who was famous for his illustrations and paintings that depicted everyday Americans in a joyful and often humorous light.

Early Life

Norman Percevel Rockwell was born in New York City in 1894. Rockwell knew from an early age that he wanted to be an artist. When he was just 14 years old, he began to take art classes at The New School of Art in New York City. By the time he was 16, he decided to drop out of high school in order to enroll at the National Academy of Design. As soon as he graduated from art school, Rockwell found a job as an illustrator for Boys’ Life magazine.

The Saturday Evening Post

In 1916, Rockwell found a job with the The Saturday Evening Post magazine. At the age of 22, he painted his first cover for the magazine. This was the beginning of Rockwell’s 47 year stint at The Saturday Evening Post. During his time there, Rockwell painted over 300 covers (321 to be exact). 

Many of Rockwell’s painted covers focused on news issues that were relevant to the time. His 1927 painting of Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic is one of Rockwell’s most iconic paintings. Rockwell also painted a cover for Look magazine that portrayed Neil Armstrong’s left foot on the surface of the moon after Armstrong’s successful moon landing.

Rockwell’s Success in the 30’s and 40’s

A Rockwell cover for The Saturday Evening Post

Rockwell experienced his greatest commercial success in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In 1939 Rockwell, his wife, and three sons moved to Vermont. It was here that Rockwell became inspired to paint pictures of everyday Americans laughing, celebrating, and otherwise enjoying themselves. Rockwell observed and soon began to appreciate the warmth of small town life, and so his paintings depicted this life with a charming sense of humor.

Rockwell once said that “Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn’t the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn’t an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it,” Among his more popular subjects were Americans celebrating Christmas, and his paintings of Americans at Christmas time are popular even today.

Rockwell Faces Social Issues in his Paintings

At the dawn of World War II, Rockwell was inspired by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to paint the Four Freedoms: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want and Freedom from Fear. These paintings prove extremely popular as covers on The Saturday Evening Post. The paintings were so popular in fact that they were shown in a touring exhibit across the United States. This exhibit raised $130 million for the U.S. war effort.

After Rockwell’s wife passed away in 1959, he remarried a retired school teacher by the name of Molly Punderson, who encouraged Rockwell to make art that focused on the social issues of the day. Rockwell soon quit his job at the Post and began making covers for Look magazine. Rockwell’s covers for Look took on a more serious tone and focused on issues such as race, poverty, and war.

Norman Rockwell died at his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, on November 8, 1978.

Sources

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