Honoring Norman Rockwell: America’s Painter

 

“Four Freedoms,” 1943

Norman Rockwell was not a realist. You aren’t supposed to interpret his paintings as depictions of everyday America as it actually was. No one who lived during his lifetime considered America a hunky-dory paradise populated only by upstanding and friendly citizens. The America he painted was one we wanted, the one we strove for, America as promised by our founding ideals. He focused on the best parts of our country. His artwork is aspirational, not delusional; optimistic, not whitewashed.

Never was this more explicit than in “Four Freedoms” (pictured to the right), his most enduring series of paintings. The series was inspired by former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address, which began, “In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” While such idealism typified Rockwell’s work, he also explored darker subjects. Created for Look magazine, “The Problem We All Live With” (pictured below) depicts Ruby Bridges’ walk to William Frantz Elementary School after it was desegregated. Four deputy U.S. marshals escort her, their heads cropped out, their stances stiff and near mirror images of one another. They stand like pillars at either end of the picture, framing the real subject, little Ruby walking upright, unfazed by the racially intimidating graffiti on the wall beside her. It is a picture about defiance. It is a celebration of progress.

“The Problem We All Live With,” 1964

Without spearheading a new art movement, without leading a tragic or unsavory life, without courting controversy, Rockwell entered the exclusive club of artists like Pablo Picasso, Leonardo da Vinci, and Vincent Van Gogh, who can be named by people otherwise unfamiliar with (and uninterested in) the world of art. His style is recognizable even among other artists of traditional, representational artwork from mid-20th century America. His style was not innovative and certainly not avant garde, but it is distinct and the subject matter so quaint and good-humored you can’t be faulted for overlooking his extraordinary technical skills.

Though his understanding of anatomy, perspective, shading, textures, and so on was unimpeachable — as Homer Simpson would say, his paintings “look like the things they look like” — he was uninterested in photographic accuracy. Comparing his final works to the reference photos he shot reveals the liberties he took, rearranging and repositioning his subjects to better achieve his aims. There is often gentle exaggeration in the posture and expression of his characters. Just as easily he could have been a cartoonist. Composing pictures is where he shined brightest.

In high school, my art teacher used “The Runaway” (pictured below) as an example of subtle yet brilliant composition. All that white negative space creates a stark image. The boy’s face is the focal point, and Rockwell has placed many things to guide our eyes back toward it. Following the policeman’s shoulder strap upward leads to the blackboard framing the head of the waiter who looks down at the boy, his cigarette pointing in the same direction. If we follow the shoulder strap the other direction, it leads to the upper beveling of the panel on the counter that leads to the boy’s belt, which curves slightly upward, guiding our eye up the boy’s right side toward his face. His shirt is the only yellow object and draws our attention immediately. None of this is flashy or obvious, but our brains pick up on it.

“The Runaway,” 1958

Perhaps Rockwell’s most iconic image is “Freedom from Want” (pictured below), part of the aforementioned Four Freedoms series. It is another masterpiece of composition, again employing copious negative space, flowing from the angelic window curtains down across the pristine tablecloth. The family sits on either side, leaning toward each other like no real person does, but it doesn’t matter because they form a procession of smiling faces leading toward the only two standing figures, the matriarch and patriarch, presenting a bountiful turkey. The face in the bottom right looks right at the viewer. His mouth isn’t visible, but we can tell from his eyes he’s smiling. We’re welcome to join in. Cool colors dominate the top half, appearing on Grandma’s dress, Grandpa’s tie, and the pinstripes of his shirt, and on the wallpaper on either corner. The rest of the picture exudes an inviting warmth on the family’s faces, the turkey, and the mound of fruit just within reach.

“Freedom from Want,” 1943

Right now, in 2021, we’re facing inflation, strained supply chains, continued racial tensions and the riot and unrest that follow them, the threat of an ever-more powerful China, a still present pandemic, and all the issues, personal and global, that have always plagued humanity. But amidst all that, if today you’re gathering with people you love to eat what throughout most of human history would be considered a feast, you are blessed. It was the blessings Rockwell cared about.

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  1. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    This is one of my favorites:

    I’m not sure what year it was, but I can picture the young man coming home from war and being greeted by his family.  He’s also about to be surprised by the girlfriend he left behind, who’s grown up quite a bit since he left . . .

    Update:  I’ve heard some people say the girl with her back against the wall is just another sister based on how the family is red-headed.  I think she’s playing it a little too coy to be a sister.

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    The runaway has special meaning to me, because we had a black and white print in our home. I had it hanging in my office when I had one. Because it was black and white, my young brain saw the police officer as black. It spoke to me in the 1970s that race did not matter. 

    To be tender, to show grace, these are the parts of being human that make us in God’s image.

    • #2
  3. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    My dad once met Norman Rockwell when my dad was a student at the Chicago Art Institute.  He was in class around 1947 and somebody came running in screaming “Norman Rockwell was just spotted walking into the Chicago Art Museum.”  Since it was right across the street from the school, my dad and a number of students ran over there and tracked him down.  Rockwell was already a big deal in the art world back then.

    About 50 years later, my father, an illustrator, was asked to do a praying version of Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want.”  I think it was for Hormel Foods.  They used the picture in advertising.  Here it is:

     

    My father admired Rockwell, though he didn’t always emulate him in his own work.  Sometimes he did.  Here is one of my favorite examples.  I think this was done for a calendar company.  It’s caption had something to do with a lost little boy.  That is my younger brother Peter who was about three years old at the time when he posed for photographs in order to create this painting.  Either my mother or father actually yelled at him in order to make him cry for a brief moment so my dad could snap some pictures!  My mom later recalled that she felt just awful and grabbed him and hugged him immediately after the pictures were taken.

    • #3
  4. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    What a wonderful way to start Thanksgiving day!  Thanks Cat!

    • #4
  5. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    My dad once met Norman Rockwell when my dad was a student at the Chicago Art Institute. He was in class around 1947 and somebody came running in screaming “Norman Rockwell was just spotted walking into the Chicago Art Museum.” Since it was right across the street from the school, my dad and a number of students ran over there and tracked him down. Rockwell was already a big deal in the art world back then.

    About 50 years later, my father, an illustrator, was asked to do a praying version of Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want.” I think it was for Hormel Foods. They used the picture in advertising. Here it is:

     

    My father admired Rockwell, though he didn’t always emulate him in his own work. Sometimes he did. Here is one of my favorite examples. I think this was done for a calendar company. It’s caption had something to do with a lost little boy. That is my younger brother Peter who was about three years old at the time when he posed for photographs in order to create this painting. Either my mother or father actually yelled at him in order to make him cry for a brief moment so my dad could snap some pictures! My mom later recalled that she felt just awful and grabbed him and hugged him immediately after the pictures were taken.

    Wow, thanks for sharing

    • #5
  6. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Wonderful post, Ms. Girlie Show.  Thanks for reminding us of Rockwell’s particular genius. 

    In Freedom from Want, I had never paid much attention to the guy in the lower right looking at the “camera.”  That little detail seems to emphasize that this is a slice of life, a very precise and real moment in time.  That guy looking at the camera also reminds us that Rockwell seems not to have worried about critics who might throw him some shade for using photographs to paint from. 

    Fans of the avant-garde have always dismissed Rockwell.  Like progressives and the rest of the desiccated and deluded Left today, they let their attachment to an ideology blind them to humanity and genius. 

    • #6
  7. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    What a perfect post for today. I have loved Norman Rockwell’s art since I was a little kid. 

    He was a great artist. I visited his studio which has been moved to the grounds of the Tanglewood Institute in Lenox, which is in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. He was fanatical about cleaning all his brushes thoroughly every night and arranging them in a particular way in the cup holder on his drafting table. He worked hard. All I could think when I saw it was what my mother used to say: The great artists make it look easy. But of course it’s not. It’s a lot of work. 

    • #7
  8. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    In Freedom from Want, I had never paid much attention to the guy in the lower right looking at the “camera.” That little detail seems to emphasize that this is a slice of life, a very precise and real moment in time. That guy looking at the camera also reminds us that Rockwell seems not to have worried about critics who might throw him some shade for using photographs to paint from.

    Wow, I thought only artists knew about this internal warfare.  For those of you who don’t know, there is a great debate among artists on whether or not it is okay, kosher, acceptable, to do paintings from photographs, as opposed to painting from real life.  In Rockwell’s case, he painted from real life in his early years, and by the 1940’s he was painting exclusively from photographs.  He hired photographers to take his pictures and used friends and family as the models.

    Fans of the avant-garde have always dismissed Rockwell. Like progressives and the rest of the desiccated and deluded Left today, they let their attachment to an ideology blind them to humanity and genius.

    The Gugenheim Museum of Art in New York City went out on a limb and hosted an exhibit of Rockwell paintings in 2002.  You see, they only show “Modern” art.  Much to their dismay, the show if I recall, had more visitors than any show they had ever sponsored before, with visitors lined up around the block for tickets.

    • #8
  9. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    Wow, I thought only artists knew about this internal warfare.  For those of you who don’t know, there is a great debate among artists on whether or not it is okay, kosher, acceptable, to do paintings from photographs, as opposed to painting from real life.  In Rockwell’s case, he painted from real life in his early years, and by the 1940’s he was painting exclusively from photographs.  He hired photographers to take his pictures and used friends and family as the models.

    I guess put me in the Norman Rockwell late school. Not that I paint, but all my books have artwork commissioned for them. I have to provide an Artist’s Brief with instructions on how to do the artwork. (They are quite extensive. The text is usually 50 to 70% that of the book. If the contract specifies a 15,000-word book the artist’s brief contains an additional 9-10,000 words.) And the Artist’s Brief is accompanied by a sheaf of illustrations for each painting, most of which are photographs.

    I have a friend who is a marine artist. He makes cardstock models of the ships he paints and photographs those to help him with the composition.

    • #9
  10. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    Wow, I thought only artists knew about this internal warfare. For those of you who don’t know, there is a great debate among artists on whether or not it is okay, kosher, acceptable, to do paintings from photographs, as opposed to painting from real life. In Rockwell’s case, he painted from real life in his early years, and by the 1940’s he was painting exclusively from photographs. He hired photographers to take his pictures and used friends and family as the models.

    I guess put me in the Norman Rockwell late school. Not that I paint, but all my books have artwork commissioned for them. I have to provide an Artist’s Brief with instructions on how to do the artwork. (They are quite extensive. The text is usually 50 to 70% that of the book. If the contract specifies a 15,000-word book the artist’s brief contains an additional 9-10,000 words.) And the Artist’s Brief is accompanied by a sheaf of illustrations for each painting, most of which are photographs.

    I have a friend who is a marine artist. He makes cardstock models of the ships he paints and photographs those to help him with the composition.

    It sounds like you are acting as the artistic director.  Is there a middle-man involved?  My father rarely dealt with the authors of books themselves, but though an art director from the book company.  The sheaf of illustrations for each painting – are these meant to be suggestions for the artist on style, content, etc…?

    • #10
  11. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    My dad once met Norman Rockwell when my dad was a student at the Chicago Art Institute. He was in class around 1947 and somebody came running in screaming “Norman Rockwell was just spotted walking into the Chicago Art Museum.” Since it was right across the street from the school, my dad and a number of students ran over there and tracked him down. Rockwell was already a big deal in the art world back then.

    About 50 years later, my father, an illustrator, was asked to do a praying version of Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want.” I think it was for Hormel Foods. They used the picture in advertising. Here it is:

     

    My father admired Rockwell, though he didn’t always emulate him in his own work. Sometimes he did. Here is one of my favorite examples. I think this was done for a calendar company. It’s caption had something to do with a lost little boy. That is my younger brother Peter who was about three years old at the time when he posed for photographs in order to create this painting. Either my mother or father actually yelled at him in order to make him cry for a brief moment so my dad could snap some pictures! My mom later recalled that she felt just awful and grabbed him and hugged him immediately after the pictures were taken.

    This picture is the prequel to Rockwell’s “The Runaway”.

    • #11
  12. Manny Member
    Manny
    @Manny

    Really wonderful post for Thanksgiving. I love all four of those Four Freedoms. And I liked the ones others have posted here. Is there a Norman Rockwell that isn’t good?  I would be hard pressed to find one. I also enjoyed Rockwell’s humor. I always got a kick out of “The Tattooist.”

    • #12
  13. Vance Richards Member
    Vance Richards
    @VanceRichards

    Growing up my parents had a big book of Rockwell prints. This one reminds me of my father. He would take us fishing all the time and if it rained he had yellow slicker and would do the upside down pipe thing.

    • #13
  14. Seawriter Contributor
    Seawriter
    @Seawriter

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    It sounds like you are acting as the artistic director.  Is there a middle-man involved?  My father rarely dealt with the authors of books themselves, but though an art director from the book company.  The sheaf of illustrations for each painting – are these meant to be suggestions for the artist on style, content, etc…?

    Yes, there is a middleman. These are for the books I write for Osprey. They find and commission the artists to create the original artwork to accompany the books. There is a limited scope for creativity in these pieces as they are usually illustrating a historical event. They are supposed to be accurate, and nothing is more maddening than when an artist ignores instructions. Even when the errors are subtle, viewers sense something is wrong.

    A classic artist flub occurred in my book on the B-29 campaign. There is one plate where a B-29 is shown dropping mines in the Straits of Shimonoseki. I specified the position of the Moon – low and in the Southwest. The artist decided it would look better with the Moon ahead of and above the aircraft, which is flying north. That placed the moon in about a 65 degree inclination relative to the earth, when it is really inclined 23.5 degrees. Due to the elaborate moonlight highlighting on the aircraft, it could not be fixed by simply painting out the moon. So the Moon is impossibly north, something an average viewer won’t catch on a conscious level.  They will sense subconsciously that something is wrong with the painting, but won’t be able to figure out what. Very frustrating. 

    • #14
  15. Henry Racette Contributor
    Henry Racette
    @HenryRacette

    Rockwell captured the not literal but nonetheless real America for which I’m increasingly nostalgic, a simple time of unambiguous faith and confidence. It’s the G-rated version of Sandburg’s Chicago, a celebration of the imperfect greatness of our country. I love his stuff.

    • #15
  16. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Steven Seward (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    In Freedom from Want, I had never paid much attention to the guy in the lower right looking at the “camera.” That little detail seems to emphasize that this is a slice of life, a very precise and real moment in time. That guy looking at the camera also reminds us that Rockwell seems not to have worried about critics who might throw him some shade for using photographs to paint from.

    Wow, I thought only artists knew about this internal warfare. For those of you who don’t know, there is a great debate among artists on whether or not it is okay, kosher, acceptable, to do paintings from photographs, as opposed to painting from real life. In Rockwell’s case, he painted from real life in his early years, and by the 1940’s he was painting exclusively from photographs. He hired photographers to take his pictures and used friends and family as the models.

    Fans of the avant-garde have always dismissed Rockwell. Like progressives and the rest of the desiccated and deluded Left today, they let their attachment to an ideology blind them to humanity and genius.

    The Gugenheim Museum of Art in New York City went out on a limb and hosted an exhibit of Rockwell paintings in 2002. You see, they only show “Modern” art. Much to their dismay, the show if I recall, had more visitors than any show they had ever sponsored before, with visitors lined up around the block for tickets.

    I’d go to a Rockwell show, but I’d probably take a pass on a chance to see Jackson Pollock’s discarded dropcloths.

    • #16
  17. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    About 50 years later, my father, an illustrator,

    (googling googling down we go, research bells are ringing)

    James Seward? If so, A) cool! Did he leave boxes and boxes of stuff about his career? The history of American 20th century commercial illustrating is a great story, and so much was lost because it was considered a lesser craft compared to Fine Art. B) I wonder if it was Hormel. Your dad seemed to do a lot of work for Shaw-Barton in Ohio, and Hormel, being a Minnesota company, would’ve been more likely to go with Brown & Bigelow, the big calendar / playing card / publishing house up here in the Cities. 

    • #17
  18. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    The family sits on either side, leaning toward each other like no real person does, but it doesn’t matter because they form a procession of smiling faces leading toward the only two standing figures, the matriarch and patriarch, presenting a bountiful turkey. The face in the bottom right looks right at the viewer. His mouth isn’t visible, but we can tell from his eyes he’s smiling.

    It almost has a proto / early Renaissance sense, with the saints stacked up in the same plane. If this was a religious work, we might think that the fellow in the foreground was the patron, looking at us to say “I’m in solid with all the holy folk.”

    Then again, it is a religious work, in its own sense. 

    You mentioned his technical abilities – I think it’s one of the things that made it so easy for the critics of the time to wave him away as an illustrator, not an artist. Recreating the physical world as we see it? Sigh. We’ve been doing that for four hundred years. What’s really artistic is enormous black blobs on white canvases to symbolism the suffering in the Spanish Civil War. Okay. But Rockwell added things an ordinary “illustrator” wouldn’t have to add, like the reflections in the diner seats. It’s a little nod to the Dutch masters, who loved their convex mirrors hanging on the wall.

    Since he used real models, that meant there were often stories that continued on after the painting was finished. The original location for this setting, according to the article cited below,  was a HoJo. He toughened it up to make it seem more out-of-the-way, the sort of diner you might find a few miles out of town. The cop was Richard Clemens, a local LEO, and the boy – well, let this article tell the story. 

    Not only did (Eddie) Locke learn how well Rockwell worked with neighbors who posed for him after the artist moved from New York to Stockbridge, but he also developed a good friendship with Clemens, which began when Locke was in his 20s and both men were taking courses at a community college. That friendship lasted until Clemens passed away in 2012.

    Now if I could just find the location of that HoJo. 

    Oh, who am I kidding, someone has to know where it is. Googling . . . 

    Okay: it wasn’t a HoJo’s; the article cited above was wrong. It was a place called Joe’s, in Lee. The Google street view has some pictures from the inside of the joint. Hello:

     

     

    You know it’s them.

     

    • #18
  19. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    James Lileks (View Comment):
    You mentioned his technical abilities – I think it’s one of the things that made it so easy for the critics of the time to wave him away as an illustrator, not an artist. Recreating the physical world as we see it? Sigh. We’ve been doing that for four hundred years. What’s really artistic is enormous black blobs on white canvases to symbolism the suffering in the Spanish Civil War. Okay. But Rockwell added things an ordinary “illustrator” wouldn’t have to add, like the reflections in the diner seats. It’s a little nod to the Dutch masters, who loved their convex mirrors hanging on the wall.

    There is a Peanuts cartoon where Charlie Brown is admiring a picture that Linus has drawn. Charlie notices that the man Linus drew has his hands behind his back.

    “You did that because you yourself have feelings of insecurity,” Charlie says.

    “I did that because I myself can’t draw hands” shoots back Linus.

    • #19
  20. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Hello:

     

     

    You know it’s them.

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    That is a great find.

    • #20
  21. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    For those of you who don’t know, there is a great debate among artists on whether or not it is okay, kosher, acceptable, to do paintings from photographs, as opposed to painting from real life.

    It’s only okay if you’re Richard Estes. 

    • #21
  22. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    About 50 years later, my father, an illustrator,

    (googling googling down we go, research bells are ringing)

    James Seward? If so, A) cool! Did he leave boxes and boxes of stuff about his career? The history of American 20th century commercial illustrating is a great story, and so much was lost because it was considered a lesser craft compared to Fine Art. B) I wonder if it was Hormel. Your dad seemed to do a lot of work for Shaw-Barton in Ohio, and Hormel, being a Minnesota company, would’ve been more likely to go with Brown & Bigelow, the big calendar / playing card / publishing house up here in the Cities.

    Yep, you found him, James E. Seward.  Not to be confused with my cousin (and his nephew) James L. Seward, a New York City artist who painted Donald Trump as Michaelangelo’s Adam for a Newsweek cover a few years ago.  Both were named after my Grampa.

    And yes, my dad left boxes and boxes of stuff behind about his career, including hundreds of paintings.  He died almost exactly ten years ago, and my mother died one year ago.  His stuff had been sitting idle in the house ever since he passed away and I spent the entire Spring and Summer cleaning out that house with my four siblings.  I was charged with taking possession of all his artwork which I am just beginning to catalogue now, and plan to put up a website about him.

     When he got out of Art School he bugged all the leading illustration studios in Chicago for a job and mostly got the bum’s rush.  Eventually some people at Brown and Bigelow, the studio that you mentioned, took him aside and taught him some stuff that he had never learned in art school.  Gil Elvgren was one of their top artists.  You might recognize him from one of his many pin-up girly pictures like this one:

    At the same time, one of his former school classmates, eccentric sports painter Leroy Neiman, tried to interest my dad in joining him in working at a brand new venture, a start-up magazine called “Playboy.”  My father, having been recently married and with child, turned him down.  He and Neiman had both taken advantage of the GI Bill by going to the Chicago Art Institute after leaving military service right after Word War II.

    I’ll leave you with two more contrasting pictures.  Both paintings were done in the late 1950’s and are in my possession now.  The first is of my sister and was for the cover of a Christian magazine.  I don’t know where the next one was published, but it features my mom and dad as models for the couple accusing another man of something(?)

    • #22
  23. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    The family sits on either side, leaning toward each other like no real person does, but it doesn’t matter because they form a procession of smiling faces leading toward the only two standing figures, the matriarch and patriarch, presenting a bountiful turkey. The face in the bottom right looks right at the viewer. His mouth isn’t visible, but we can tell from his eyes he’s smiling.

    It almost has a proto / early Renaissance sense, with the saints stacked up in the same plane. If this was a religious work, we might think that the fellow in the foreground was the patron, looking at us to say “I’m in solid with all the holy folk.”

    Then again, it is a religious work, in its own sense.

    That’s a pretty good explanation.  You should be writing those museum card-descriptions for paintings instead of the gobbeldygook put out by those pin-heads.

    • #23
  24. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    You mentioned his technical abilities – I think it’s one of the things that made it so easy for the critics of the time to wave him away as an illustrator, not an artist. Recreating the physical world as we see it? Sigh. We’ve been doing that for four hundred years. What’s really artistic is enormous black blobs on white canvases to symbolism the suffering in the Spanish Civil War.

    I thought I’d add a picture of the Picasso eyesore to which you are referring:

     

    • #24
  25. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Steven Seward (View Comment):
    For those of you who don’t know, there is a great debate among artists on whether or not it is okay, kosher, acceptable, to do paintings from photographs, as opposed to painting from real life.

    It’s only okay if you’re Richard Estes.

    Also for Chuck Close who does 25-foot high paintings of “big heads” from passport-sized photographs.

    • #25
  26. Gazpacho Grande' Coolidge
    Gazpacho Grande'
    @ChrisCampion

    Thanks for the post – I hadn’t seen some of these other works.  Great stuff.  

    His technical capability seems wildly overlooked by the mainstream.  The Runaway is fantastic.

    • #26
  27. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    In Freedom from Want, I had never paid much attention to the guy in the lower right looking at the “camera.”  That little detail seems to emphasize that this is a slice of life, a very precise and real moment in time.

    It always made me think I was invited to the meal, and the other person was watching me go “Wow!” as Grandma put the bird on the table . . .

    • #27
  28. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    I ran across an article a while ago — I don’t recall where — that said “Freedom From Want” is a master class in how to paint white objects. The curtains, the white apron, and the entire tabletop are all predominantly white, and the more I look at them closely the more I appreciate his skill.

    An article about the painting I just found now says:

    From a technical standpoint, “Freedom From Want” is noted for its mastery of texture in art. The gleam of the china and the transparency of the water in the glasses are two excellent examples of this. 

    • #28
  29. Steven Seward Member
    Steven Seward
    @StevenSeward

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    I ran across an article a while ago — I don’t recall where — that said “Freedom From Want” is a master class in how to paint white objects. The curtains, the white apron, and the entire tabletop are all predominantly white, and the more I look at them closely the more I appreciate his skill.

    An article about the painting I just found now says:

    From a technical standpoint, “Freedom From Want” is noted for its mastery of texture in art. The gleam of the china and the transparency of the water in the glasses are two excellent examples of this.

    Good point.  The white areas are extremely active with off-white nuances.  There is a temptation by artists to just leave such areas pure white and concentrate on the middle-tones.

    I’ve seen a number of his paintings in person and the thing that struck me is that the details are more meticulous and subtle than I had perceived in even high-quality reproductions.  That is even more remarkable because in his day the technology to reproduce his paintings accurately on the covers of magazines was limited (especially in those nearly-white areas).  He put a lot of extra work into his paintings that he knew could not be appreciated through the printing process.

    By contrast, Andrew Wyeth’s father N.C. Wyeth, who was doing book illustrations in that same era, did his paintings extremely large and with little detail because he knew they would be “shrunk down” in the printing process and he didn’t need to add any extra finesse.

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