Study for "The Facts of Life" inscribed and signed 'To Bea and Brian, / May happiness dwell with / you in your new home. / Cordially / Norman / Rockwell' (lower left) oil on canvas 44 x 33 3/4in
PROVENANCE: The artist Bea and Brian King, gift from the above Richard Salem, gift from the above Margaret Salem, by descent By descent to the present owner, 2005
EXHIBITED: Stockbridge, Massachusetts, The Norman Rockwell Museum, on loan, 2005-13.
LITERATURE: L.N. Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, p. 189, no. C457.
The present work is a study for a Saturday Evening Post cover illustration published on July 14, 1951.
Norman Rockwell is one of the most admired and prolific American artists of the twentieth century. Born in New York City in 1894, Rockwell grew up in Mamaroneck, New York. With little local opportunity to seek a formal artistic education, Rockwell started commuting to Manhattan during his freshman year of high school for selective study at the Chase School. Wishing to enroll in a more serious and time intensive program, he left high school after his first year and moved to New York City to attend classes at the National Academy of Design. After a brief period at the Academy, he transferred to the Art Students League where he was profoundly influenced by his professor and well-known illustrator, Thomas Fogarty. Fogarty would prove to be the foundation for Rockwell's success as an illustrator and he certainly encouraged the young artist to execute his works with passion and a keen attention to detail. Fogarty's influence is evident in Rockwell's clear, focused style and ability to capture the individual personalities of each of the characters within his illustrations.
At the age of twenty one, Rockwell and his family moved from the city to New Rochelle, New York. Here he shared a studio with Clyde Forsythe, a colleague and fellow illustrator. Forsythe was the first to suggest Rockwell try his luck at illustrating for the Saturday Evening Post, as he himself had painted many covers for the magazine. In 1916 Rockwell traveled to Philadelphia with a handful of illustrations to meet with the then Saturday Evening Post's art editor, Walter H. Dower. Impressed with Rockwell's portfolio, Dower accepted two of his completed paintings for upcoming Post covers and commissioned him to draft three more. Thus began the forty-seven year relationship between Rockwell and the Post, during which he produced over three hundred covers and arguably his most important body of work.
The present work, Study for "The Facts of Life," in which a father appears mid-lecture to his son over a most delicate subject, was completed for the July 15, 1951 issue of the Post. This work, which was the last study Rockwell completed before the final version of the cover, is notably different than the final, published work. The published image includes two significant changes, including the replacement of the wonderful, playful wallpaper and upholstery patterns with monochromatic tones, both decisions Rockwell presumably made in order to ensure the graphic simplicity of a widely syndicated illustration. The elaborately patterned wallpaper in the present work a strutting family of hens, roosters and baby chicks in striking abstract detail was designed by Rockwell's good friend and neighbor in Vermont, the illustrator John Atherton. The varying shades of green in the fanciful and feathered menagerie create a subtle yet dizzying effect when paired with the underlying lime-tinted shadows seen in the father's pants and shirt as well as in the son's anxious face and hands. The pattern injects a fresher, contemporary feel to the work Rockwell tended to verge on the quaint and romantic when it came to domestic scenes, no doubt present even when tackling a more troublesome childhood topic such as 'the facts of life.' Yet the artist's sense of play is evident, seen in the unfinished sketch above the son's head where he experimented with yet another motif two bumblebees mid-flight, a tongue-in-cheek reference to 'the birds & the bees' and in the kittens that seem to have overrun the living room while the mother cat snoozes beneath the father's seat, perhaps the origin of the uncomfortable yet necessary conversation taking place between father and son.
To accompany Rockwell's final illustration on the cover, an excerpt was included inside the magazine with a short, but comforting explanation: "We trust that this lad, after being told the somewhat appalling facts of life, does not reply calmly, "Yes, sir, that just about checks with the way I've always heard, goes more like this ----" Such crises have occurred, and they tend to shatter the deflated parent. Norman Rockwell's parent can rally, though, with supplementary facts that the lad won't have in mind: how, when people get married, bills come in once a month, how fathers and mothers sometimes feel like throttling each other, how even nice children can be nerve-racking fiends - and how life nevertheless is a wonderful invention because of the fact that love conquers all."
Rockwell would begin his Saturday Evening Post covers with a rough pencil sketch, which would then be approved by the editor before he continued. Subsequently, he would spend hours finding the ideal models and props to arrange for the setting, after which he would return to his studio to pose and sketch the figures. While he sketched, a photographer would take snapshots from various angles which Rockwell would to use for comparison. Following the preliminary sketches and photography, Rockwell would proceed with larger crayon studies drawn on tracing paper. The last step before moving onto oil paints was a final, extremely precise charcoal drawing with every character in place, expression perfected and detail refined. Only when he had transferred the image from the charcoal layout onto the final canvas would Rockwell begin painting. If he was uncertain as to which colors to use for specific areas, he completed paint studies in order to select the ideal hues for the final composition. Once the colors were chosen Rockwell would rapidly finish applying the oil to canvas, thus completing the illustration.
Rockwell's covers for the Saturday Evening Post uniquely recorded an era of American life with his focus on the common man and everyday themes rendered in incredibly detailed images. Though he remains beloved for all of his works, Rockwell's illustrations for the Saturday Evening Post have become a staple in the artist's oeuvre, and his time with the magazine can be considered a benchmark of his highly successful career. His illustrations were and continue to be incredibly popular and recognizable among the American public, which undoubtedly justifies his status as the most well-known American artist in history.
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