Norman Rockwell was a prolific artist, producing more than 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 also was commissioned to illustrate more than 40 books, including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn as well as painting the portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, as well as those of foreign figures, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru. His portrait subjects included Judy Garland. One of his last portraits was of Colonel Sanders in 1973. 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. He painted six images for Coca-Cola advertising. 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.
Rockwell's work was dismissed by serious art critics in his lifetime. Many of his works appear overly sweet in the opinion of modern critics, 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 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 that was what he called himself.
In his later years, however, 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 black girl, Ruby Bridges, flanked by white federal marshals, walking to school past a wall defaced by racist graffiti. This painting was displayed in the White House when Bridges met with President Obama in 2011.
Norman Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894, in New York City, to Jarvis Waring Rockwell and Anne Mary "Nancy" Rockwell, née Hill. His earliest American ancestor was John Rockwell (1588–1662), from Somerset, England, who emigrated to colonial North America, probably in 1635, aboard the ship Hopewell and became one of the first settlers of Windsor, Connecticut. He had one brother, Jarvis Waring Rockwell, Jr., older by a year and a half. Jarvis Waring, Sr., was the manager of the New York office of a Philadelphia textile firm, George Wood, Sons & Company, where he spent his entire career.
Rockwell transferred from high school to the Chase Art School at the age of 14. He then went on to the National Academy of Design and finally to the Art Students League. There, he was taught by Thomas Fogarty, George Bridgman, and Frank Vincent DuMond; his early works were produced for St. Nicholas Magazine, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) publication Boys' Life, and other youth publications. As a student, Rockwell was given small jobs of minor importance. His first major breakthrough came at age 18 with his first book illustration for Carl H. Claudy's Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature.
After that, Rockwell was hired as a staff artist for Boys' Life magazine. In this role, he received 50 dollars' compensation each month for one completed cover and a set of story illustrations. It is said to have been his first paying job as an artist. At 19, he became the art editor for Boys' Life, published by the Boy Scouts of America. He held the job for three years, during which he painted several covers, beginning with his first published magazine cover, Scout at Ship's Wheel, which appeared on the Boys' Life September edition.
Rockwell's family moved to New Rochelle, New York, when Norman was 21 years old. They shared a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, who worked for The Saturday Evening Post. With Forsythe's help, Rockwell submitted his first successful cover painting to the Post in 1916, Mother's Day Off (published on May 20). He followed that success with Circus Barker and Strongman (published on June 3), Gramps at the Plate (August 5), Redhead Loves Hatty Perkins (September 16), People in a Theatre Balcony (October 14), and Man Playing Santa (December 9). Rockwell was published eight times on the Post cover within the first year. Ultimately, Rockwell published 323 original covers for The Saturday Evening Post over 47 years. His Sharp Harmony appeared on the cover of the issue dated September 26, 1936; it depicts a barber and three clients, enjoying an a cappella song. The image was adopted by SPEBSQSA in its promotion of the art.
Rockwell's success on the cover of the Post led to covers for other magazines of the day, most notably the Literary Digest, the Country Gentleman, Leslie's Weekly, Judge, Peoples Popular Monthly and Life magazine.
When Rockwell's tenure began with The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, he left his salaried position at Boys' Life, but continued to include scouts in Post cover images and the monthly magazine of the American Red Cross. He resumed work with the Boy Scouts of America in 1926 with production of his first of fifty-one original illustrations for the official Boy Scouts of America annual calendar, which still may be seen in the Norman Rockwell Art Gallery at the National Scouting Museum in the city of Irving near Dallas, Texas.
During World War I, he tried to enlist into the U.S. Navy but was refused entry because, at 140 pounds (64 kg), he was eight pounds underweight for someone 6 feet (1.8 m) tall. To compensate, he spent one night gorging himself on bananas, liquids and doughnuts, and weighed enough to enlist the next day. He was given the role of a military artist, however, and did not see any action during his tour of duty.
In 1943, during World War II, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms series, which was completed in seven months and resulted in his losing fifteen pounds. The series was inspired by a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, wherein he described four principles for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship and Freedom from Fear. The paintings were published in 1943 by The Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell used the Pennell shipbuilding family from Brunswick, Maine as models for two of the paintings, Freedom from Want and A Thankful Mother, and would combine models from photographs and his own vision to create his idealistic paintings. The United States Department of the Treasury later promoted war bonds by exhibiting the originals in sixteen cities. Rockwell considered Freedom of Speech to be the best of the four.
That same year, a fire in his studio destroyed numerous original paintings, costumes, and props. Because the period costumes and props were irreplaceable, the fire split his career into two phases, the second phase depicting modern characters and situations. Rockwell was contacted by writer Elliott Caplin, brother of cartoonist Al Capp, with the suggestion that the three of them should make a daily comic strip together, with Caplin and his brother writing and Rockwell drawing. King Features Syndicate is reported to have promised a $1,000 per week deal, knowing that a Capp-Rockwell collaboration would gain strong public interest. The project was ultimately aborted, however, as it turned out that Rockwell, known for his perfectionism as an artist, could not deliver material so quickly as would be required of him for a daily comic strip.
During the late 1940s, Norman Rockwell spent the winter months as artist-in-residence at Otis College of Art and Design. Students occasionally were models for his Saturday Evening Post covers. In 1949, Rockwell donated an original Post cover, April Fool, to be raffled off in a library fund raiser.
In 1959, after his wife Mary died suddenly from a heart attack, Rockwell took time off from his work to grieve. It was during that break that he and his son Thomas produced Rockwell's autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator, which was published in 1960. The Post printed excerpts from this book in eight consecutive issues, the first containing Rockwell's famous Triple Self-Portrait.
Rockwell's last painting for the Post was published in 1963, marking the end of a publishing relationship that had included 321 cover paintings. He spent the next 10 years painting for Look magazine, where his work depicted his interests in civil rights, poverty, and space exploration.
In 1966, Rockwell was invited to Hollywood to paint portraits of the stars of the movie Stagecoach, and also found himself appearing as an extra in the film, playing a "mangy old gambler".
In 1968, Rockwell was commissioned to do an album cover portrait of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper for their record, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.
In 1969, as a tribute to Rockwell's 75th anniversary of his birth, officials of Brown & Bigelow and the Boy Scouts of America asked Rockwell to pose in Beyond the Easel, the calendar illustration that year.
His last commission for the Boy Scouts of America was a calendar illustration entitled The Spirit of 1976, which was completed when Rockwell was 82, concluding a partnership which generated 471 images for periodicals, guidebooks, calendars, and promotional materials. His connection to the BSA spanned 64 years, marking the longest professional association of his career. His legacy and style for the BSA has been carried on by Joseph Csatari.
For "vivid and affectionate portraits of our country," Rockwell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America's highest civilian honor, in 1977 by President Gerald Ford. Rockwell's son, Jarvis, accepted the award.
Rockwell died on November 8, 1978, of emphysema at age 84 in his Stockbridge, Massachusetts home. First Lady Rosalynn Carter attended his funeral.
Rockwell married his first wife, Irene O'Connor, in 1916. Irene was Rockwell's model in Mother Tucking Children into Bed, published on the cover of The Literary Digest on January 19, 1921. The couple divorced in 1930. Depressed, he moved briefly to Alhambra, California as a guest of his old friend Clyde Forsythe. There he painted some of his best-known paintings including The Doctor and the Doll. While there he met and married schoolteacher Mary Barstow in 1930. The couple returned to New York shortly after their marriage. They had three children: Jarvis Waring, Thomas Rhodes, and Peter Barstow. The family lived at 24 Lord Kitchener Road in the Bonnie Crest neighborhood of New Rochelle, New York. For multiple reasons Rockwell and his wife were not regular church attendees although they were members of St. John's Wilmot Church, an Episcopal church near their home, where their sons were baptized. Rockwell moved to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939 where his work began to reflect small-town life.
In 1953, the Rockwell family moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, so that his wife could be treated at the Austen Riggs Center, a psychiatric hospital at 25 Main Street, close to where Rockwell set up his studio. Rockwell also received psychiatric treatment, seeing the analyst Erik Erikson, who was on staff at Riggs. Erikson is said to have told the artist that he painted his happiness, but did not live it. In 1959, Mary died unexpectedly of a heart attack. Rockwell married his third wife, retired Milton Academy English teacher, Mary Leete "Mollie" Punderson (1896-1985), on October 25, 1961. His Stockbridge studio was located on the second floor of a row of buildings; directly underneath Rockwell's studio was, for a time in 1966, the Back Room Rest, better known as the famous "Alice's Restaurant." During his time in Stockbridge, chief of police William Obanhein was a frequent model for Rockwell's paintings.
From 1961 until his death, Rockwell was a member of the Monday Evening Club, a men's literary group based in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. At his funeral, five members of the club served as pallbearers, along with Jarvis Rockwell.
A custodianship of his original paintings and drawings was established with Rockwell's help near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the Norman Rockwell Museum still is open today year round. The museum's collection includes more than 700 original Rockwell paintings, drawings, and studies. The Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies at the Norman Rockwell Museum is a national research institute dedicated to American illustration art.
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 12-city U.S. tour of Rockwell's works took place in 2008. In 2008, Rockwell was named the official state artist of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The 2013 sale of Saying Grace for $46 million (including buyer's premium) established a new record price for Rockwell. Rockwell's work was exhibited at the Reading Public Museum and the Church History Museum in 2013–2014.In the film Empire of the Sun, a young boy (played by Christian Bale) is put to bed by his loving parents in a scene also inspired by a Rockwell painting—a reproduction of which is later kept by the young boy during his captivity in a prison camp ("Freedom from Fear", 1943).
The 1994 film Forrest Gump includes a shot in a school that re-creates Rockwell's "Girl with Black Eye" with young Forrest in place of the girl. Much of the film drew heavy visual inspiration from Rockwell's art.
Film director George Lucas owns Rockwell's original of "The Peach Crop", and his colleague Steven Spielberg owns a sketch of Rockwell's Triple Self-Portrait. Each of the artworks hangs in the respective filmmaker's work space. Rockwell is a major character in an episode of Lucas’ Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, “Passion for Life.”
In 2005, Target Co. sold Marshall Field's to Federated Department Stores. After the sale, Federated discovered that Rockwell's The Clock Mender displayed in the store was a reproduction. Rockwell had donated the painting, which depicts a repairman setting the time on one of the Marshall Field and Company Building clocks, and was depicted on the cover of the November 3, 1945 Saturday Evening Post, to the store in 1948. Target has since donated the original to the Chicago History Museum.
On an anniversary of Norman Rockwell's birth, on February 3, 2010, Google featured Rockwell's iconic image of young love "Boy and Girl Gazing at the Moon", which also is known as "Puppy Love", on its home page. The response was so great that day that the Norman Rockwell museum's servers went down under the onslaught.
"Dreamland", a track from Canadian alternative rock band Our Lady Peace's 2009 album Burn Burn, was inspired by Rockwell's paintings.
The cover for the Oingo Boingo album Only a Lad is a parody of the Boy Scouts of America 1960 official handbook cover illustrated by Rockwell.
Scout at Ship's Wheel (first published magazine cover illustration, Boys' Life, September 1913)
Santa and Scouts in Snow (1913)
Boy and Baby Carriage (1916; first Saturday Evening Post cover)
Circus Barker and Strongman (1916)
Gramps at the Plate (1916)
Redhead Loves Hatty Perkins (1916)
People in a Theatre Balcony (1916)
Tain't You (1917; first Life magazine cover)
Cousin Reginald Goes to the Country (1917; first Country Gentleman cover)
Santa and Expense Book (1920)
Mother Tucking Children into Bed (1921; first wife Irene is the model)
No Swimming (1921)
Santa with Elves (1922)
Doctor and Doll (1929)
The Four Freedoms (1943)
Freedom of Speech (1943)
Freedom of Worship (1943)
Freedom from Want (1943)
Freedom from Fear (1943)
Rosie the Riveter (1943)
We, Too, Have a Job to Do (1944)
Going and Coming (1947)
Tough Call (also known as Game Called Because of Rain, Bottom of the Sixth, or The Three Umpires; 1948)
The New Television Set (1949)
Saying Grace (1951)
Waiting for the Vet (1952)
The Young Lady with a Shiner (1953)
Walking to Church (1953)
Girl at Mirror (1954)
Breaking Home Ties (1954)
The Marriage License (1955)
The Scoutmaster (1956)
The Rookie (1957)
The Runaway (1958)
A Family Tree (1959)
Triple Self-Portrait (1960)
Golden Rule (1961)
The Connoisseur (1962)
The Problem We All Live With (1964)
Southern Justice (Murder in Mississippi) (1965)
New Kids in the Neighborhood (1967)
Russian Schoolroom (1967)
The Spirit of 1976 (1976) (stolen in 1978, recovered in 2001 by the FBI's Robert King Wittman)
Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Rockwell Collection at the National Museum of American Illustration
Norman Rockwell World War II posters, hosted by the University of North Texas Libraries Digital Collections
Norman Rockwell and the Art of Scouting at the National Scouting Museum, Irving, Texas
Norman Rockwell Exhibit in Arlington, Vermont