Friday, February 3, 2012

Happy Birthday Norman!

The Art Critic
Norman Rockwell
I am back from my quick trip out to Ohio to see the Norman Rockwell exhibit at The Dayton Art Institute so I thought I would give a little re-cap of my trip.

First of all, since I was going around Indianapolis I decided to check out the art museum there.  I was really glad I did!  It is a terrific art museum.  It cost $5.00 to park but the museum was free.

The museum has a large number of paintings from many well known artists like Monet, Van Gogh,  Cassatt and Renoir.  This painting by Renoir was my favorite.  It really spoke to me.

So then it was off to Dayton ( with a couple of stops at some antique shops on the way).

The next day I went to the Rockwell exhibit.  I'm not sure what I expected to see, but I think I was surprised by what I saw and I think I learned a few things.  First of all, of the 32 full size paintings in the exhibit, I was surprised by how large they are.  Most of them are at least 30" on one side. Some quite a bit larger than that.

 I guess I was interested in seeing his brush strokes up close.  Well, there aren't a lot of brushstrokes!  Most of his work is rather flat surfaced.  The painting at the top of this post was an exception in that the blobs of paint on the palette actually  stand out a good 3/4 of an inch.  The paintings were very well done and had a lot of detail but they were for the most part smooth surfaced.  Almost all of Rockwell's paintings have very simple backgrounds.  Much of this is due I'm sure,  to the fact that they were used as magazine covers, but it was nice to have the subjects stand out without fussy backgrounds.  But the simplicity of the brushwork and backgrounds didn't really matter because you are instantly drawn in to the painting by the people represented in them.  You want to know what they are thinking and doing.  There is a story being told.  There is also an instant emotional response to his work.  One woman viewing the exhibit was crying.  They are that fantastic!

The biggest thing I think I learned was that Rockwell probably spent 95% of the time on each painting planning, dressing, arranging, photographing, drawing and color testing before he even picked up a paint brush.  In the example above, he tested over a dozen different expressions for the woman in the painting before deciding on this one.  (Good choice!)

Another thing that goes along with this is that he worked very very hard.  His second wife joked that in order to spend time with him she had to take him out of the country far away from his studio.  But he was also prolific.  In his life-time he painted over 4000 pieces of original art.  Imagine that....4000!   So if he painted for 64 of those 84 years that is around 62 paintings a year.  And those were BIG paintings!

So, a big Happy Birthday to Norman Rockwell Feb 3rd 1894- Nov 8th 1978.  You brought out the best of  America and you brought smiles to millions  billions of people.....and you continue to do so.


  1. Thanks for the post Karla. I saw a Rockwell at the Denver art museum and, like you, was amazed how big it was. I just bought two books on him from a used book store and can't wait to read them. His ability to instantly communicate a story and draw in a viewer is unparalleled and an inspiration to me as an artist.

  2. This exhibit sounds very moving. Wish I could see it.

  3. Wish I could have made that trip. I did have the good fortune of going to Stockbridge, Mass to visit the Norman Rockwell Museum. Fun Rockwell factoid: Rockwell liked to paint heads about eight inches in height, so he planned out the size of the painting with that as a reference. Good post!


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