Wednesday, June 6, 2007
ELLICE: Norman Rockwell, Illustrator (1940-50's)
As a 20th Century Painter and Illustrator Norman Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations of everyday life scenarios he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over more than four decades.
In 1943, during the Second World War, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms series, which was completed in seven months and resulted in his losing 15 pounds. The series was inspired by a speech by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had declared that there were four principles for universal rights:
Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, Freedom from Fear.
The paintings were published in 1943 by The Saturday Evening Post. The U.S. Treasury Department later promoted war bonds by exhibiting the originals in 16 cities. Rockwell himself considered "Freedom of Speech" to be the best of the four.
Rockwell's ability to "get the point across" in one picture, and his flair for painstaking detail made him a favorite of the advertising industry. He was also commissioned to illustrate over 40 books including the ever-popular Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Illustrations for booklets, catalogs, posters (particularly movie promotions), sheet music, stamps, playing cards, and murals (including "Yankee Doodle Dandy") rounded out Rockwell's ability as an illustrator. 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, considered by many critics to be one of his masterpieces. His most popular of calendar works was 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.
Rockwell employs the formal elements of design to communicate crisp messages with a variety of purposes and to create stories without words.
He was very prolific, and produced over 4000 original works, most of which have been either destroyed by fire or are in permanent collections. Original magazines in mint condition that contain his work are extremely rare and can command thousands of dollars today.
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. Yet, Rockwell sometimes produced images many considered powerful and moving. One example is The Problem We All Live With, which dealt with the issue of school 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. It is probably not an image that could have appeared on a magazine cover earlier in Rockwell's career, but it ranks among his best-known works today.
Due to his own technique of using a special compound between layers of paint, some of his originals have yellowed with age, but the aging hasn't diminished his popularity nor the demand for "anything Rockwell."