The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell was born in New York City on a blustery night in February of 1894. He had a normal, happy childhood while showing signs of becoming a prolific artist from a very young age; he quickly morphed into a beacon for the Americana art movement in the 20th century.

At 14 years old, Rockwell transferred to Chase Art School where he would spend the remainder of his academic career. Rockwell’s early illustrations were published in small juvenile-aimed magazines and newsletters, such as St. Nicholas Magazine. However, after Rockwell’s graduation from art school in 1912 at the age of 18, he had his first major breakthrough into the adult art world through full-color sketches that were published in Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature.

Rockwell’s illustrations had taken on a wholesome all-American feeling, and by 1916, Rockwell was painting on a daily basis; submitting his artwork to a wide range of magazines, but having little success, until his roommate and cartoonist Clyde Forsythe suggested Rockwell submit his illustrations to The Saturday Evening Post. Rockwell reluctantly agreed for fear of further rejection but to his surprise, May 20th of 1916 marked the day when his painting Mother’s Day Off was released to the public via the Post.

From there, Rockwell submitted over a dozen more paintings to The Saturday Evening Post over a period of four decades, becoming an influential part of an art movement that reflected American culture and small-town controversy within the United States. His work was considered overly idealistic by most critics, which is why sentimental paintings or life-like depictions of modern times are often attached to a “Rockwellesque” adjective.

Although art critics weren’t always kind with their criticism towards Rockwell’s life’s work, government and presidential officials felt differently. On April 14th in 177, Rockwell was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his accurate portrayal and lifetime depiction of American culture; the highest honor that any American civilian can receive. Unfortunately, Rockwell died at the age of 84 from a long-time battle with Emphysema in November of 1978. He had accumulated over 4,000 works of art, two dedicated museums, and a lifetime of praise and awards before his death. The appreciation for Rockwell’s art didn’t end with his death. Modern directors have incorporated scenes devoted to Rockwell’s paintings into their films, while doctor’s offices and public health departments often have framed copies of Rockwell’s medical-related pieces. However, two of his paintings have stood the test of time in their symbolism and have been the point of many an artist’s analytical essay.

One such Rockwell painting is entitled Girl at Mirror. At first glance, this piece seems to simply depict a young girl staring contemplatively at her reflection. However, upon closer inspection, the viewer will notice the young girl has a magazine opened to a picture of a beautiful woman, a celebrity, on her lap. The girl seems to be scrutinizing her appearance, perhaps wondering when she’ll look similar and less awkward as the woman depicted in her tabloid.

This symbolism is timeless! Rockwell painted Girl at Mirror as a tribute to self-acceptance and beauty at a time in a child’s life where hormones and magazines are telling her otherwise. The message would be the same today. It’s hard for young children, or anybody really, to feel beautiful in an awkward time when magazines, television, and the general media is telling them what they need to look like to be beautiful. The young girl in the image has tossed her doll aside in favor of lipstick and make-up; Rockwell’s testament to innocence lost in the reality and hopes of growing up.

Rockwell’s second favorite painting amongst his adoring fans was a piece entitled Exasperated Nanny. This particular painting was a humorous look at a typical situation; a nanny is babysitting a very angry, crying toddler. She has this look that says, “I give up!” while the baby shows no signs of ceasing his tantrum. It’s a piece that stirred many a laugh from mothers, nannies, and caregivers across the United States as anyone who’d ever looked after a child could relate to how the painted nanny was feeling. The viewer can also see that the nanny has obviously tried everything in an effort to appease the toddler, but to no avail; so, what else is there for her to do?

Exasperated Nanny was meant to be nostalgic, evoking endearing maternal feelings through lifetimes. Rockwell’s specialty was creating paintings, such as this one, that were idyllic scenes from everyday life. The original Exasperated Nanny painting can be viewed daily at the Norman Rockwell Museum in his hometown of Stockbridge, Massachusetts. rockwell hardness tester for sale

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