Norman Rockwell | Biography

Quick Wiki

  • Full Name Norman Rockwell
  • Occupation Painter, Illustrator
  • Nationality American
  • Birthplace New York City
  • Place Of Death Stockbridge, Massachusetts (home)
  • Death Date 1978-11-8
  • Did You Know? Rockwell was married thrice in his life.  
  • Birth Date Feb 03, 1894


Legendary Illustrator & Painter

Norman Rockwell | Biography

After hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union speech in 1943, Rockwell produced a collection of four iconic paintings about the four freedoms Roosevelt spoke of in the aftermath of World War II and were published. In 1969, his work on Look magazine depicted Neil Armstrong's left foot in the moon after the successful moon landing. In 1977, President Gerald Ford gave Rockwell 'Presedential Medal Of Freedom' award.

Norman Rockwell was an influential American painter and illustrator who created iconic representations of American culture for The Saturday Evening Post.

Who is Norman Rockwell?

Norman Rockwell's first commission came when he was seventeen years old. At the age of 22, his first Saturday Evening Post 'Boy with Baby Carriagecover was published on 20 May 1916. With the Post, Rockwell would later have 47 years of success with the magazine. During that time, he created 321 magazine covers.

After hearing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union speech in 1943, Rockwell produced a collection of four iconic paintings about the four freedoms Roosevelt spoke of in the aftermath of World War II and were published.

'The Problem We All Live With,' his Civil Rights masterpiece (1963), was the culmination of his postwar work, which included significant socially inspired elements. Other works, such as 'Grissom and Young' (1965), a portrait of astronauts, and 'First Trip to the Beauty Shop' (1972), packed with his trademark humor and pathos, document significant civic moments. 

Early life

Born on 3 February 1894 in New York City, Rockwell was the second of three sons born to Jarvis Waring Rockwell, a Philadelphia textile firm manager, and Anne Mary Rockwell, an anxious yet adventurous wife, mother, and homemaker.

Rockwell spent several hours with the choir at St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village, where he grew up in a religious family with his siblings. The family spent the summers on country farms in New England.

When he was in his adolescent years, his extended family had relocated to Mamaroneck, New York. Their new home was in a quiet, sleepy village near the Atlantic Ocean, where they could hear the waves lapping against the shore. His schoolwork and church attendance were less stressful and more enjoyable. Norman began to make new friends with whom he formed close bonds.

Now that he was old enough to realize his family's financial struggles, Norman wanted to earn some money by mowing lawns, purchasing a mail delivery route to the village's wealthier section, and tutoring. Ethel Barrymore, later known as 'The First Lady of the American Theatre,' was one of his students he tutored in algebra, drawing, and painting.

At the age of 14, Rockwell decided he wanted to be an artist and enrolled at The New School of Art. By the age of 16, Rockwell had dropped out of high school and enrolled at the National Academy of Design to pursue his dream. He later moved to the New York Art Students League. Popular artists such as Thomas Fogarty, George Bridgman, and Frank Vincent DuMond taught him here.

Early Painting Career

After receiving his first freelance assignment from Conde Nast at age seventeen, he subsequently illustrated for different magazines. In 1912, he was 18 when he came with his first illustrating book for Carl H. Claudy's 'Tell Me Why: Mother Nature Story.' It was Rockwell's first major commission.

On his visit to Philadelphia in March 1916, Rockwell visited the Editor of the Saturday Evening Post, George Horace Lorimer. It was the dream of Rockwell to cover the post office. He showed his work to the art editor since he did not have an appointment. The editor then showed the piece to Lorimer. The editor accepted Rockwell's two finished cover pictures and three future cover sketches. Norman Rockwell was 22 and made his first cover for the magazine in the 20 May 1916 issue of the popular magazine the piece entitled 'Boy with Baby Carriage.'

The success of Rockwell with the piece made him more appealing to other magazines: Rockwell had a total of 321 postal coverings subsequently. His most iconic coverage included a celebration of the crossing of the Atlantic by Charles Lindberg in 1920.

The 1930s and 1940s were the most fruitful times for Rockwell's success; it was was largely due to his careful appreciation of the everyday American scenes, particularly the warmth of small-town life. Bout some of the criticisms rejected him for not having a true artistic merit

As he grew up, Rockwell found that earth was never a perfect place, so he decided to paint his paintings with the ideal aspects. "Maybe as I grew up and found the world wasn't the perfect place I had thought it to be, I unconsciously decided that if it wasn't an ideal world, it should be, and so painted only the ideal aspects of it," he once said.

World War II

During the Second World War, the Office of War Information reproduced posters of his paintings portraying the 'Four Freedoms.'

In 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor plunging the United States into World War II. Rockwell felt that his duty was to paint pictures to remind Americans, especially soldiers, of the most important and precious possession: their freedom. He was mainly inspired by the 1941 address to Congress by President Roosevelt, "At no previous time has American security been threatened from without as it is today."

In 1943, Rockwell painted his Four Freedoms paintings: 'Freedom of Speech,' 'Freedom of Worship,' 'Freedom from Want,' and 'Freedom from Fear,' which were reproduced in four issues of the Saturday Evening Post accompanied by essays from contemporary writers. His works later toured the United States in an exhibition organized by the US treasury and the magazine. The exhibition brought in more than $130 million for the war effort. The original paintings were also taken on a nationwide tour to promote war bonds by the federal government. 

Later Career

In 1943, the studio of Rockwell burned. His original paintings and drawings and his large costume collection got burnt to ashes. He then settled in West Arlington, Vermont, with his family. Rockwell then worked on special posting stamps and posters for the Treasury, the Military, and Hollywood movies. He also produced pictures of the Sears mail-order catalogs, Hallmark greeting cards, and books such as 'Tom Sawyer's Adventures' and 'The Huckleberry Finn Adventures.' Rockwell later moved to Massachusetts in 1953 with his family in Stockburger.

Eventually, Rockwell wanted a new source of revenue. He returned to the Post in the summer of 1955, where he decided to paint portraits of Presidential candidates Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower. Meanwhile, in the fall of that year, Post's publisher planned to start publishing excerpts from his autobiography on 13 February 1960, a date for which he needed to concentrate on creating the cover image.

Post War Work 

 In the postwar years, he did the bulk of the work of his career. On 14 January 1964, Look published a piece of his titled 'The Problem We All Live With,' which was a socially charged piece. The work depicts a small African American girl surrounded by faceless US marshals as she marches past a wall with the marks of a broken tomato and a scrawled racial epithet. The artist known for portraying romanticized visions of American life received a lot of hate mail for the piece. But it turned out to be one of his most significant works. The piece was the Norman Rockwell Museum's first acquisition in 1975, and it later hung in the White House during President Barack Obama's first term. 

In 1969, his work on Look magazine depicted Neil Armstrong's left foot in the moon after the successful moon landing. In 1977, President Gerald Ford gave Rockwell 'Presedential Medal Of Freedom' award. A year later, Rockwell died at home on 8 November 1978.


'Rosie The Riveter'

On 29 May 1943 Rockwell’s painting 'Rosie the Riveter' received large scale distribution on Memorial Day in the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. The illustration presents a sturdy woman enjoying her lunch break, carrying a rivet gun on her lap, underneath her a copy of Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, 'Mein Kampf' and a lunch box tagged Rosie. The position of the women was in a way to match the painting of 'Sistine Chapel ceiling' painting of the prophet Isaiah by Michelangelo.

The model painted by Rockwell was a 19-year-old Mary Doyle Keefe, an inhabitant of Vermont, employed as a telephone operator near Rockwell’s residence, not a riveter. The painter painted Rosie as a bulky woman compared to his model, and later contacted her to apologize.

Keefe appeared on The Tonight Show on 6 June 1994, the day which marked the 50-year D-Day anniversary, as Jay Leno did an exclusive tribute by introducing a number of World War II veterans along with Keefe. Vicki Mandle, a member of The Tonight Show band, chanted the song 'Rosie the Riveter' and Keefe, the model made the drill sound at the end of the song.

Rockwell through this painting played his part to generate patriotism as his concept carried a powerful and eternal message behind it by symbolizing women’s empowerment and importance of women’s participation in the workforce.  

Saturday Evening Post’s cover picture earned big popularity and the magazine leased it to the Treasury Department of the U.S until the war, for its application in war bond drives. At the time of war, 'Rosie the Riveter' and Rockwell’s 'Four Freedoms' travelled the country collecting money for the war bond drive. 'Rosie the Riveter' raised around $132 million and also helped to inspire over 20 million women to enter the workforce by 1944. “I was very pleased that they could make all this money for the war”, expressed the model Keefe in The Tonight Show. She added, “I am proud of this painting. It’s a symbol of what the women did for the war, to do their part, and to give up their nail polish.”

In the year 2002, the original painting was sold at Sotheby’s for approximately $5 million where Rockwell’s model Keefe remained a special guest. However, in June 2009 the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas obtained the famous painter’s classical 'Rosie the Riveter' painting from a private collector.

'The Problem We All Live With'

'The Problem We All Live With' was heavily inspired by the Ruby Bridge’s story and school integration. The illustration featured a young Afro-American girl being escorted to school in between signs of protest and dreadful ignorance. However, the girl looks confident and fails to notice the racial slurs written over the wall. This painting led Rockwell’s career to shine and symbolized the hard struggle for racial equality.

Bridge’s historic walk occurred six years after the 1954 U.S Supreme Court Brown Vs. The Education Board ruling announced that state laws formulating separate public schools for white and black students were unconstitutional and marked the absolute victory of the American Civil Rights Movement. 

In 14th November 1960 Bridges was the first Afro-American child to attend the school after the integration of the New Orleans school system was ordered by a federal court. This was her first day of William Franz Elementary School in New Orleans. The general public was so dissatisfied with the court’s decision that the white parents pulled out their children from school so that they shouldn’t share the classroom with a black girl. Bridges remained alone for a whole year in the classroom.

This illustration appeared on 14 January 1964 in Look magazine. Rockwell received letters of both honor and criticism especially from the readers who were unaccustomed to such social analysis. The painter would repay his visit to the civil rights theme in various other paintings from the time period. In 1970, Rockwell received the 'Million Dollar Club Award' from NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), for generously contributing $1000 to the company.

'The Problem We All Live With' was the first painting ever to be purchased by Norman Rockwell Museum in 1975. The support of the Henry Luce Foundation contributed to the White House Loan which allowed the museum to buy the painting. “Norman Rockwell Museum is deeply honored that the White House has requested the loan of one of Rockwell’s most important paintings,” said the Museum Director Laurie Norton Moffatt. “The painting has come to serve as an important symbol of civil rights, and Museum Trustee Ruby Bridges’ historic journey. We are enormously grateful for the support of the Luce Foundation that made the loan possible.”

The classic artwork is kept in the West Wing of the Whitehouse, outside the Oval office. The path to the White House began in the year 2008, with Bridge’s suggestion. The picture arrived in June after Congress and other members lobbied for the transfer.

Norman Rockwell's Self -Portraits

Rockwell’s references were the four portraits on his canvas – Rembrandt van Rijn, Vincent Van Gogh, Albrecht Durer and Pablo Picasso. They call us to analyze (as he did) how other artists dealt with the self-portrait complications. Unlike the 'Rosie the Riveter' artist, all four artists developed multiple formal self-portraits. Rockwell developed only two full color self-portraits named as 'Norman Rockwell Painting the Soda Jerk' in 1953 and 'The Deadline' in 1938. 

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