Norman Rockwell was an American illustrator most famous for the covers that he painted for the Saturday Evening Post magazine.
As a child, Norman won a scholarship to attend the Art Students League. He received his first illustration assignment at age 17 and created artwork for various magazines from then on.
In 1916, he sold his first cover to The Saturday Evening Post. He illustrated 317 covers for the magazine over the next 47 years. The magazine provided him with an audience larger than that of any other artist in history.
During the First World War, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy but was refused entry because he was underweight. He spent one night pigging out, and he weighed enough to enlist the next day. Norman Rockwell was given the role of a military artist. His contribution during World War II was a series of posters that symbolized the goals of the war. The series was inspired by a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which he described four principles for universal rights: Freedom from Want, Freedom of Speech, Freedom to Worship, and Freedom from Fear. The Office of War Information reproduced and distributed the posters, and the U. S. Department of the Treasury promoted war bonds by exhibiting the originals. Rockwell himself considered “Freedom of Speech” to be the best of the four. One version of it can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
During the late 1940s, Rockwell spent the winter months as artist-in-residence at Otis College of Art and Design here in Southern California. His students there occasionally modelled for his Saturday Evening Post covers.
In 1977, President Gerald R. Ford presented Rockwell with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – America’s highest civilian honor – in thanks for the artist’s “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.” Though loved by the public, Rockwell’s work was dismissed by some art critics. They considered his paintings too sweet, too idealized, and too sentimental to be taken seriously. Critics referred to him as an “illustrator” instead of an artist, but Rockwell didn’t mind because that’s what he called himself.
In his later years though, Rockwell received more attention as a painter. He chose more serious subjects like a series on racism for Look magazine. The Problem We All Live With, for example, was a painting of a young black girl walking to school 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 original paintings and drawings are collected and cared for near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The Norman Rockwell Museum is still open year round.
Portrait drawn by yours truly