Rethinking Rockwell ; A Popular Magazine Illustrator Is Winning New Respect from Museums and Critics

By Daniel Grant , | The Christian Science Monitor, October 29, 1999 | Go to article overview

Rethinking Rockwell ; A Popular Magazine Illustrator Is Winning New Respect from Museums and Critics


Daniel Grant ,, The Christian Science Monitor


Norman Rockwell exhibited at the Guggenheim Museum! It sounds so crazy," says art historian Robert Rosenblum.

His statement reflects the art establishment's bewilderment that Rockwell (1894-1978), a painter often thought of as a corny, sentimental illustrator of magazine covers, is about to be exhibited at a number of high-brow art institutions that tend to ally themselves more with cutting-edge contemporary art than Rockwell's nostalgic, idealized images of small-town America.

So why this exhibition - and why now?

"This is an extremely [economically] feasible show," says Peter Plaegens, an art critic for Newsweek magazine. "People will come in droves, and the museums that take Rockwell will sell a lot of tickets, as well as a lot of T-shirts, posters, and other collateral items.

"There is a built-in hipness about liking Rockwell. It goes against the orthodoxy of Modernism. You see people slicking their hair back into pompadours; it's all very retro," Mr. Plaegens says.

The traveling exhibition, "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People," will debut at Atlanta's High Museum Nov. 6 and make its final stop at the Guggenheim Museum in New York in 2001.

The seven-city tour also includes Chicago, Washington, San Diego, Phoenix, and Stockbridge, Mass. This is the first retrospective of Rockwell since a 1972 exhibition sponsored by the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Museum of Art. That show received reviews that ranged from lukewarm to thumbs-down.

Ironically, it was an art critic who got the ball rolling. "I think it was three years ago, I happened to stumble into Stockbridge, Mass., and went to the Rockwell museum," Mr. Rosenblum says. "I was totally riveted by the paintings. He struck me as a fabulously interesting artist, who really knew how to put a picture together."

Both Plaegens and Rosenblum have said that the experience of looking at Rockwell's actual paintings, rather than at reproductions of them, made them more sympathetic to the artist. Rosenblum then recommended the idea of a touring retrospective to Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim.

The result of his efforts is a sizable retrospective, consisting of 70 original oil paintings. The most famous are "The Four Freedoms" ("Freedom of Speech," "Freedom to Worship," "Freedom From Want," "Freedom From Fear), "Triple Self-Portrait," "The Marriage License," and "Shuffleton's Barbershop." Also included are all 322 of Rockwell's Saturday Evening Post covers. The works cover 60 years of his career and date back to 1916.

Collectors cash in

Though art critics might have been slow to catch on, the market for Rockwells and illustration art in general has been expanding steadily with rising prices. Judy Goffman, an illustration art dealer, says that auction houses are now wooing the owners of Rockwells, creating a competition with the private dealers who traditionally have handled the sale of these works. "Whenever a Rockwell comes up for sale now, the owners all tell me what Christie's and Sotheby's say they can get for it," Ms. Goffman says.

Because Rockwell made numerous preliminary drawings, there may be different prices for oil sketches, watercolors, and pastels - all for the same image. Rockwell's full-size paintings have exceeded half a million dollars at some auctions.

Plaegens said that it is time for "a reevaluation, or maybe just an evaluation, of Rockwell" by an art world that has long dismissed him.

Some of that reevaluation has begun in academia, says Anne Knutson, guest curator at the High Museum. She wrote her dissertation on illustration and World War I propaganda. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Rethinking Rockwell ; A Popular Magazine Illustrator Is Winning New Respect from Museums and Critics
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.