Norman Percevel Rockwell (February 3, 1894 – November 8, 1978) was an early 20th century American painter. His works enjoy a broad popular appeal in the United States, where Rockwell is most famous for the cover illustrations he created for The Saturday Evening Post magazine over more than four decades. Among the best-known of Rockwell's works are Rosie the Riveter (the less-reproduced of two works generally given that title) and the Four Freedoms series.
Born in February 3, 1894 in New York City to Jarvis Waring and Ann Mary (Hill) Rockwell. He had one sibling, a brother, Jarvis. Rockwell transferred from high school to the Chase Art School at the age of 16. He then went on to the National Academy of Design, and finally, to the Art Students League, where he was taught by Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. Rockwell's early works were done for St. Nicholas Magazine, the Boy Scouts of America publication Boys' Life, and other juvenile publications.
As a student, Rockwell was given smaller, less important jobs. His first major breakthrough came in 1912 at age 18 with his first book illustration for C.H. Claudy's Tell Me Why: Stories about Mother Nature.
During the First World War, he tried to enlist into the U.S. Navy but was refused entry because, at 6 feet (1.83 m) tall and 140 pounds (64 kg), he was eight pounds underweight. To compensate, he spent one night gorging himself on bananas, liquids and donuts, and weighed enough to enlist the next day. However, he was given the role of a military artist and did not see any action during his tour of duty.
Rockwell moved to New Rochelle, New York at age 21 and shared a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe, who worked for The Saturday Evening Post. With Forsythe's help, he submitted his first successful cover painting to the Post in 1916, Boy with Baby Carriage (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 total on the Post cover within the first twelve months. Norman Rockwell published 321 more covers for The Saturday Evening Post over the next 47 years.
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, Judge, Peoples Popular Monthly and Life magazine.
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. However, the couple divorced in 1930. He quickly remarried schoolteacher Mary Barstow, with whom he had three children: Jarvis Waring, Thomas Rhodes and Peter Barstow. In 1939, the Rockwell family moved to Arlington, Vermont, which seemed to inspire him to paint scenes of everyday, small town American life.
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, and 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.
That same year a fire in his studio destroyed numerous original paintings, costumes, and props. Later, in 1953, his wife Mary died unexpectedly, which resulted in Rockwell taking time off to grieve. It was during this break that he and his son Thomas produced his 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 married his third wife, retired schoolteacher Molly Punderson, in 1961. His 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.
During his long career, he was commissioned to paint the portraits for Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, as well as those of other world figures, including Gamal Abdel Nasser and Jawaharlal Nehru.
Norman'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. His annual contributions for the Boy Scouts' calendars (1925 – 1976), 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. Illustrations for booklets, catalogs, posters (particularly movie promotions), sheet music, stamps, playing cards, and murals (including "Yankee Doodle Dandy", which was completed in 1936 for the Nassau Inn in Princeton, New Jersey) rounded out Rockwell's œuvre 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.
A custodianship of 574 of his original paintings and drawings was established with Rockwell's help near his home in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and the museum is still open today between May and October every year. Rockwell received in 1977 the Presidential Medal of Freedom for "vivid and affectionate portraits of our country", the United States of America's highest civilian honor.
Rockwell is a recipient of the Silver Buffalo Award, the highest adult award given by the Boy Scouts of America.
Norman Rockwell died November 8, 1978 of emphysema at age 84 in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Rockwell was very prolific, and produced over 2000 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.
Many of his works appear overly sweet in modern critics' eyes, especially the Saturday Evening Post covers, which tend toward idealistic or sentimentalized portrayals of American life. Consequently, Rockwell is not considered a "serious painter" by some contemporary artists, who often regard his work as bourgeois and kitsch. Writer Vladmir Nabokov scorned brilliant technique put to 'banal' use, and wrote in his book Pnin; "That Dali 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 it was what he called himself. Yet, Rockwell sometimes produced images considered powerful and moving to anyone's eye. 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.
Norman Rockwell's ability to relate America's old values to the events of a rapidly changing world made him a hero and friend to millions of his compatriots. Like his contemporary, filmmaker Frank Capra, Rockwell had the ability to depict twentieth-century Americans as they preferred to see themselves