Chicago Historical Society

Chicago, IL




A comprehensive exhibition of the art of Norman Rockwell, exploring his unparalleled role as an American icon-maker and storyteller, will be on display when "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" opens February 26, 2000, at the Chicago Historical Society, Clark St. at North Avenue. It is the only Midwest showing for this seven-city national tour. "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" is organized by The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge and the High Museum of Art, Atlanta.

Featuring more than 70 of Rockwell's oil paintings and all 322 of his Saturday Evening Post covers, "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" offers visitors an in-depth look at the work of an artist who helped forge a sense of American identity and common values. "Rockwell captured America's imagination by illustrating what we all knew and saw, but which we didn't notice," says Douglas Greenberg, Chicago Historical Society president. "The exhibition provides an opportunity for visitors to reacquaint themselves with a wonderfully talented artist who enchanted us with his vision of America for more than 50 years." (left: Freedom From Want, © 1943 Curtis Pubishing Company)

In November, "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" opened its national tour in Atlanta at the High Museum of Art. Following its Chicago showing, the exhibition travels to The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, June 17 - September 24, 2000; San Diego Museum of Art, October 28 - December 31, 2000; Phoenix Art Museum, January 27 - May 6, 2001; The Norman Rockwell Museum, June 9 - October 8, 2001; and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, November 7, 2001 - February 11, 2002.

Many of the works on view in "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" are drawn from the permanent collection of The Norman Rockwell Museum, including such beloved and well-known images as the Four Freedoms (1943), The Marriage License (1955), Girl at Mirror (1954), Golden Rule (1961), Going and Coming (1947), and New Kids in the Neighborhood (1967). These paintings are augmented by significant and seldom-seen loans from private collections, as well as by loans from an array of institutions, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (New Television Antenna, 1949), The Brooklyn Museum (Tattoo Artist, 1944), The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (Game Called Because of Rain, 1949) and The Berkshire Museum (Shuffleton's Barbershop, 1950). The infamous cow allegedly behind The Great Chicago Fire also will be on display in Mrs. Catherine O'Leary Milking Daisy (c. 1935), from the Chicago Historical Society's collection. (left: Mrs. Catherine O'Leary Milking Daisy, c. 1935, Chicago Historical Society Collection)

Also featured in the exhibition are materials demonstrating how Rockwell worked, proceeding from preliminary sketches, photographs, color studies, and detailed drawings to the finished painting. Advance tickets for "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" can be purchased by calling Ticketmaster at 312-902-1500 or visiting any Ticketmaster Center at Dominicks, Carson Pirie Scott, Tower Records and Hot Tix. Tickets also can be ordered online.


Four Themes in the Career of an American Icon Maker

"Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" organizes the artist's work into four thematic groups to demonstrate how Rockwell images provided Americans with a vocabulary for describing and celebrating themselves, their country, and their experiences in the 20th century.

The divisions also illuminate the relationship between Rockwell and the magazines and advertisers for whom he worked and how they influenced his subject matter. Within the four groups of images, viewers will find the sentimental and humorous pictures for which Rockwell is best-known, as well as images such as The Problem We All Live With (1964) in which he movingly addressed complex social and political issues. (right: The Problem We All Live With ,1964 oil on canvas, 36 x 58 inches, © 1963 The Norman Rockwell Family Trust, Reproduced with permission of the Norman Rockwell Estate Licensing Company, Niles, Illinois. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge)

The section titled "Inventing America" demonstrates how Rockwell created pictures that bridged the old and the new, offering Americans a sense of comfort as the 20th century introduced them to a seemingly endless series of changes. In Going and Coming (1947), for example, Rockwell shows how the proliferation of automobiles after World War II helped to create a new type of family vacation. (left: Going and Coming ,1947, oil on canvas, 16 x 31 1/2 and 16 x 31 1/2 inches, © 1947 Curtis Pubishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)

"Drawing on the Past" explores how Rockwell's work generated a visual encyclopedia of characters and scenes from American history, meeting a palpable need for shared heritage -- a need that became more pressing as waves of immigrants changed American society and as international upheavals pushed the United States into the forefront of world affairs. Rockwell's pictures of colonial times, Dickensian holidays, and great leaders in American history (such as Lincoln for the Defense, 1962) provided Americans with shared images of a common past.

"Celebrating the Commonplace" documents Rockwell's remarkable ability to focus on everyday moments and elevate them to new significance. The boys "caught in the act" in No Swimming (1921) become more than characters in an anecdote: they serve as instantly recognizable icons, representing the joys and pitfalls of youthful high spirits. (left: No Swimming ,1921, oil on canvas, 25 1/4 x 22 1/4 inches, © 1921 Curtis Pubishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)

Finally, in "Honoring the American Spirit," the exhibition brings together Rockwell's images that address complex social issues, promote patriotism and examine ideas that were important to American life. In the act of portraying momentous developments such as the two World Wars, the civil rights movement, and the moon landing, Rockwell also helped build consensus around these events. The Four Freedoms (1943) gave visible form to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's concepts, and as such, were the centerpiece for a major government campaign explaining "why we fight." These four paintings served as the focal point of a traveling exhibition and war bond drive that elicited sales of more that $132 million in war bonds.


From the Studio to the Magazine Cover

To put Rockwell's work into the context of the period, the exhibition includes a timeline of the artist's life entitled "Life as an Illustrator." This part of the exhibition displays original works of art and family photographs alongside newspaper headlines and photographs tracking the major political, economic, and social events of Rockwell's time.

Another section of the exhibition, "In the Studio," brings visitors into Rockwell's creative process. Taking as an example Art Critic (1955), a work made for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post, the exhibition traces the artist's complex, time-consuming working method, from rough sketches to photographs of models, to pencil and oil studies, to the final painting and the published magazine cover.

The exhibition presents all 322 covers that Rockwell produced for The Saturday Evening Post, the most popular American magazine in the first half of the 20th century. An additional section focuses on the omnipresence of Rockwell's images, presenting political cartoons, related works by other artists, and everyday commercial products that allude to or imitate Rockwell's pictures. Demonstrating Rockwell's pervasive influence on radio, TV, film, and contemporary advertising, this part of the exhibition encourages visitors to weigh the power of the original work of art against that of the reproduction. (left: Girl at Mirror, 1954, oil on canvas, 31 1/2 x 29 1/2, © 1954 The Curtis Pubishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)


Major Publication Accompanies National Tour

Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, is the distributor of "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People," a fully illustrated, 200-page accompanying catalog published by the Norman Rockwell Museum and the High Museum of Art. The volume provides an unprecedented range of written perspectives on Rockwell's work. Taken together, these essays offer an unusually broad approach to the artist's life and work, using visual analysis, cultural history, and mass media studies to look critically at Rockwell's role in influencing American perceptions of the 20th century. The volume features 80 high-quality color plates, as well as reproductions of archival photographs.

Among the essayists and contributing writers are: Robert Coles, the distinguished child psychiatrist and a friend of Norman Rockwell; Dave Hickey, a well-known critic of contemporary culture; Robert Rosenblum, a noted art historian and curator; Neil Harris, an acclaimed historian of popular culture with the University of Chicago; Wanda M. Corn, a highly regarded art historian; Karal Arm Marling, a cultural historian and critic and author of Norman Rockwell ( 1997); Steven Heller, art director for The New York Times Book Review; Thomas Hoving, former director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Peter Rockwell, a sculptor and the son of Norman Rockwell; Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum; and Ned Rifkin, former Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr. Director of the High Museum of Art. (left: The Runaway, 1958, oil on canvas, 35 3/4 x 33 1/2 inches, © 1958 The Curtis Pubishing Company, Collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust) )

Other contributing essayists are the co-curators of "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People": Anne Knutson, Guest Curator, High Museum of Art; Maureen Hart Hennessey, Chief Curator, the Norman Rockwell Museum; and Judy L. Larson, formerly curator of American Art at the High Museum and now Executive Director, The Art Museum of Western Virginia.

The exhibition and its national tour are made possible by Ford Motor Company. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are also made possible by the Henry Luce Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Curtis Publishing Company and The Norman Rockwell Estate Licensing Company. Education programs for the national tour are made possible by Fidelity Investments through the Fidelity Foundation. "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People" remains on view until May 21, 2000. Sara Lee Corporation and The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust are generous sponsors of the exhibition in Chicago. The Elizabeth Morse Charitable Trust is also underwriting all educational programming for the exhibition in Chicago.




Brief Biography of Norman Rockwell


"I showed the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed."

Norman Rockwell


Norman Rockwell always knew he wanted to be an illustrator. Born in New York City in 1894, he left high school at the age of 15 to begin his studies at the National Academy of Design. One year later, he transferred to the Art Students' League, where he studied under the renowned George Bridgeman. There, Bridgeman taught him the rigorous technical skills on which he relied throughout his long career. (left: Art Critic, 1955, oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 36 1/4 inches, © 1955 The Curtis Pubishing Company, Collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge}

Rockwell found success early. He painted his first commission of four Christmas cards before his sixteenth birthday. While still in his teens, he was hired as art director of Boys' Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts, and began a successful freelance career illustrating a variety of publications for young people.

When Rockwell was 21, his family moved to New Rochelle, New York, a community whose residents included such famous illustrators as J.C. and Frank Leyendecker, Coles Phillips and Howard Chandler Christy. There, Rockwell set up a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe and produced work for such magazines as Life, Literary Digest and Country Gentleman. In 1916, the 22-year-old Rockwell published his first Saturday Evening Post cover, a commission considered to be the pinnacle of achievement for an illustrator. That same year Rockwell married Irene O'Connor. They were divorced in 1929. Over the next 47 years, Rockwell produced 321 more covers for the Post.

The 1930s and 1940s are generally considered to be the most fruitful decades of Rockwell's career. In 1930 he married Mary Barstow, a schoolteacher, with whom he had three sons: Jarvis, Thomas and Peter. The family moved to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939, and Rockwell's work increasingly reflected small-town American life. His paintings employed wit, pathos and extraordinary technical expertise to convey stories and images that still touch young and old alike.

Although Rockwell drew on the work of other great artists in creating his images, it was the ordinary routines of life that inspired his work. "The commonplace of America are to me the richest subjects in art," Rockwell wrote, "boys batting flies on vacant lots, little girls playing jacks on the front steps; old men plodding home at twilight, umbrella in hand - all of these things arouse feeling in me. Commonplaces never become tiresome. It is we who become tired when we cease to be curious and appreciative."

In 1943, Rockwell created four paintings based on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's famous concept of the "Four Freedoms." The paintings were reproduced in the Saturday Evening Post alongside essays by prominent thinkers of the day. As an interpretation of the individual's role in a democracy, Rockwell's series proved enormously popular. The works toured the United States in an exhibition jointly sponsored by the Post and the Treasury Department that raised more than $130 million for the war effort through the sale of war bonds. (left: Freedom of Speech, 1943, oil on canvas, 45 3/4 x 35 1/2 inches, © 1943 The Curtis Pubishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)

Apart from the success of the Four Freedoms series, 1943 was a year of loss for Rockwell. A fire destroyed his Arlington studio, including numerous paintings and his collection of historic costumes and props.

The Rockwell family moved from Arlington, Vermont, to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, in 1953. Six years later, Mary Barstow Rockwell unexpectedly died. The following year, in collaboration with his son Tom, Rockwell published his best-selling autobiography, My Adventures as an Illustrator. The Saturday Evening Post carried excerpts from the book with Rockwell's Triple Self-Portrait on the cover of the issue containing the first installment. (left: Triple Self-Portrait , 1960, oil on canvas, 44 1/2 x 34 3/4 inches, © 1960 The Curtis Pubishing Company. From the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust)

In 1961, Rockwell married Molly Punderson, a former teacher. Two years later, he ended his 47-year association with The Saturday Evening Post and began to work for Look magazine. During his ten-year association with Look Rockwell painted pictures illustrating many of his deepest concerns and interests, including civil rights: America's war on poverty and man's travels to the moon.

In 1973 Rockwell established a trust to preserve his artistic legacy, placing his works under the custodianship of Stockbridge's historic Old Corner House. The trust now forms the core of the permanent collection of the Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge. Later, Rockwell added his Stockbridge studio and all its contents to the bequest. In 1977, Rockwell received the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, for his "vivid and affectionate portraits of our country." He died peacefully at his home in Stockbridge on November 8, 1978, at the age of 84.

from left to right: The Revolution that Started in a Shed at Night, 1953, from the "American Road" series of advertisements, Courtesy of Ford Motor Company; The Boy Who Put the World on Wheels, 1953, from the "American Road" series of advertisements, Courtesy of Ford Motor Company; The Street Was Never the Same Again, 1953, from the "American Road" series of advertisements, Courtesy of Ford Motor Company; The Farmer Takes a Ride, 1953, from the "American Road" series of advertisements, Courtesy of Ford Motor Company; Lincoln for 1959, advertisement, Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

rev. 5/8/08

For further biographical information please see America's Distinguished Artists, a national registry of historic artists.


Chicago Historical Society is located at Clark Street at North Avenue , Chicago, Illinois. Admission suggested.

When Resource Library publishes over time more than one article concerning an institution, there is created as an additional resource for readers a sub-index page containing links to each Resource Library article or essay concerning that institution, plus available information on its location and other descriptive information.

Unless otherwise noted, all text and image materials relating to the above institutional source were provided by that source. Before reproducing or transmitting text or images please read Resource Library's user agreement.

Traditional Fine Arts Organization's catalogues provide many more useful resources:

Search Resource Library for thousands of articles and essays on American art.

Copyright 2009 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.