No artist captured the idealism of American culture during the mid 20th century quite like painter Norman Rockwell. Born in Massachusetts in 1894, and with an American lineage spanning all the way back to 1635, it’s no wonder he was such a master at his subject.
His first big break in his illustration career came in 1912 when he illustrated Carl H. Claudy’s book entitled Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature. One year later, at the age of 19, Rockwell became the art editor of Boys’ Life magazine and went on to do several cover illustrations for them. Soon after he enlisted himself into the U.S. Navy to fight in World War I, but instead of fighting he ended up doing illustrations for the Navy’s brochures and posters.
Norman Rockwell’s most noted for his cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post. He landed that job by sharing an art studio with Post cartoonist Clyde Forsythe after the war. Rockwell’s first Post cover was published in 1916 entitled Mother’s Day Off. He went on to create a total of 323 totally original covers for the very lucky publication. That is just a small chunk of the over 4,000 pieces he created over his lifetime.
Many artists and art critics didn’t take Norman Rockwell seriously during his career. They thought everything he did was too “idealized” or “kitsch”. They failed to see the immense talent that went into creating his beautifully rendered paintings. So what if his subject matter is idealistic? These artists may have thought that Rockwell was a “sellout” for becoming so popular amongst non-artist types. Most of the draw to his work is the wonderfully set up scenes of 20th century America. Serious artists did not find this appealing until later in Rockwell’s career, when his earlier works started to grow a nice thick layer of nostalgia.
Even without the nostalgic American quality to his work, it is futile to argue that Rockwell was not a very well versed painter. It’s obvious how skilled he was at capturing exaggerated facial expressions, even getting the skin colors a perfect mix of peach, red, blue, and in the case of this image of the little girl with the bruise (right), purple. He even captured textures in such a way that it seems as though you can reach right into the painting and pull the clothes right off of one of his subjects (but please, don’t do that).
The impact that Norman Rockwell has left on the art community today is incredible. He raised the bar very high for illustrators of all different mediums. One particular illustrator very affected by Rockwell’s work is a comic book artist by the name of Alex Ross. Before Ross, comic book art was all pencil line drawings, inked over and splashed with simple colors. Greatly inspired by Norman Rockwell, Alex Ross decided to break away from the traditional comic book art style and painted all of his works in a hyper realistic style.
"I have always looked upon Rockwell's style as the peak of what one could hope to achieve artistically. — It is a major career achievement for me to have my work be in company with his." — Alex Ross
Today, Norman Rockwell has grown into an artistic superstar, inspiring many new artists and pushing new ideas into the artistic community that was once hesitant to accept his groundbreaking attention to detail in a medium void of any serious realism. You can view an extensive library of his work permanently on display at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, as well as an exhibit on the work of Alex Ross available for viewing until February 2013.
Alex Ross Art: Bio
Norman Rockwell Museum