Rock On, Mr. Rockwell. Rock On.

22 Covers Inspired by the Works of Norman Rockwell

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Like that TV cop used to say, “Just the facts, ma’am”:

Name: Norman Perceval Rockwell
Date of birth: Feb. 8, 1894
Date of death: Nov. 8, 1978
Occupation: Artist

Say the words “Norman Rockwell” to most Americans and they’ll know exactly what you’re talking about: helpful police officers, young people in love, kids on swings, families gathered around the dinner table, and pretty much anything else that comes to mind when you picture an idealized American small town.

But Rockwell wasn’t just someone who painted sentimental images; in fact, you could argue no other artist did more to capture the changing face of America in the early and mid-20th century. He’s probably best known for the 300-plus Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations he painted over a span of 47 years that showed ordinary people in everyday situations, though his art also showed himself to be a keen advocate of civil rights and scientific exploration.

Many of his paintings have become iconic images, making them irresistible to other artists looking for a quick hit of inspiration for their own work.

For instance:

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Freedom From Want, 1943
Published in the March 6, 1943 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, Freedom From Want was one of four Rockwell paintings inspired by Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address speech, in which the president proposed four fundamental freedoms that people everywhere in the world ought to enjoy: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.  The paintings were the focus of a nationwide tour that helped raise more than $132 million for the war effort. This painting, with the open end of the table inviting the viewer to feel like they’re part of the feast, is one of Rockwell’s most famous works, and certainly the one that’s most parodied by other artists. To wit:

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The Shiner (Girl with Black Eye), 1953
From Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera: “It took three or four sessions to get the reference photographs for The Shiner (Girl with Black Eye) just right. Model Mary Whalen recalls, ‘The black eye was the hardest thing in that picture, it had to be just perfect.’ The solution for Rockwell was to copy a genuine black eye, but he was unable to find one locally. The Berkshire Eagle ran a story about his search, and when the national wire picked it up he soon had more offers than he could handle.” 

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After the Prom, 1957
After The Prom appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post published May 25, 1957. Many of Rockwell’s pictures took an affectionate look at local gathering spots like diners, truck stops, cafeterias and soda fountains. This painting, one of the most sought-after Rockwell originals by collectors, combines his affinity for those places with another of his favorite themes: young love.

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The Runaway, 1958
While Rockwell’s subjects all seem to represent some part of quintessential Americana, he used actual models to help him create his paintings, the more authentic the better. In The Runaways, for instance, the helpful police officer was modeled after Staff Sgt. Richard J. Clemens Jr., a Massachusetts state trooper who died in 2012. Rockwell approached Clemens, a neighbor at the time, in early 1958 and asked him to pose in uniform with eight-year-old Ed Locke. Years later, when asked when the image had endured for so long, Clemens said: “I think it’s a depiction of reality. Police work is far from what you see on TV. It’s dealing with people in times of crisis and sometimes in humorous situations.”

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Triple Self-Portrait, 1960
When asked to produce a self-portrait to illustrate a book about him, Rockwell decided to have some fun with it, doing away with the traditional head-and-shoulders in favor of a work that showed the slightly less glamorous side of creating art. The four images attached to the corner of his canvas are references to four other prominent artists (Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent Van Gogh) who were all famous for producing their own self-portraits, though they created far more images of themselves than Rockwell did; besides this one, he painted only two other full-color self-portraits.

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Shadow Artist, 1920
Shadow Artist, one of Rockwell’s earlier works, focuses the viewer’s attention on the white-haired man and the shadow figure projected behind him. We don’t see the faces of his audience, but we can assume they’re being entertained by what they see as only young children can be.

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The Prom Dress, 1949
Appearing on the March 19, 1949 cover of The Saturday Evening Post, The Prom Dress appears to be a straightforward image of a teenage girl holding her new prom dress as she looks into a mirror. The reflection represents the stereotypical look of an attractive girl… but the viewer gets to see what’s behind that image, specifically the young woman’s rolled-up jeans and plaid shirt. There’s also the look on her face; you’d expect her to be thrilled to have her new dress, but her facial expression is more like indifference. What’s she thinking about this dress? Is she looking forward to a night that’s supposed to be magical for every young woman? Is she dreading it? Does she see this dress as the start of her adulthood, a signal to put away childish things like her ice skates and conform to what society expects her to be? Or did I just blow your mind with my amazing application of a liberal-arts degree?

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