'The crossword puzzle' signed 'Norman Rockwell' (lower right) and inscribed 'Double Rush' (lower center) oil on canvas 30 x 23in
PROVENANCE: Collection of the artist Chic Sale, Scarsdale, New York, 1928-29 (gift from the artist) Thence by descent through the family to the present owner
LITERATURE: The Saturday Evening Post, January 31, 1925, illustrated in color on the cover. Thomas Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist & Illustrator, New York, 1970, no.202 illus., Thomas Buechner, Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective, New York, 1972, p.54 Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, p.132, illus. pl.165. Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Vol.1, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986 p.99, #C263 (with medium incorrectly identified as oil on posterboard)
The crossword may seem to be a part of our culture today; a daily ritual for some and for many the arrival of the Sunday New York Times is a high point of the week. However, it was not always that way in America.
Rockwell's cover illustration captures some of the fascination and controversy surrounding the humble crossword puzzle. Invented in Italy in the 1890s, the crossword puzzle began to become a popular leisure activity in America in the 1920s. By mid decade it had passed from fad to craze. Simon and Schuster published the first book of crosswords in 1924--the year prior to the publication of our cover--and crosswords were being published in many daily papers
To be sure, this newly popular amusement was not without controversy. While the public embraced it there were many detractors. Some moralizers at the time felt it was merely a waste of intellectual activity, while librarians specifically complained of crossword solvers dominating their dictionaries and encyclopedias to the detriment of more legitimate users.
In our illustration, Rockwell defuses some of the controversy by employing two old codgers as his models. They sit around the pot-bellied stove while the faithful dog is tucked under the chair. The crossword could easily be replaced by the checkerboard as the object of their distraction. No pressing activity or obligation is being neglected. He also displays the essential elements of the phenomenon. The main figure dangles the newly minted crossword book and scans the ceiling for the right word, while his collaborator scours the dictionary.
Ironically, this new custom was frowned upon by the more prominent newspapers and the New York Times did not publish their first crossword until 1942.