Norman Perceval Rockwell (1894 – 1978) was a 20th-century American author, painter and illustrator who is most famous for his illustrations of everyday life; for capturing the spirit of small town America; and for his patriotic depictions during World War II. Most of the works of Rockwell were created as cover illustrations of The Saturday Evening Post magazine. He painted 323 Saturday Evening Post Covers over the course of 47 years. Norman Rockwell was the most widely known and popular commercial artist of mid-20th century America. Here are his 10 most famous paintings including The Runaway, Girl at Mirror, Rosie the Riveter, Triple Self-Portrait and works from his renowned Four Freedoms series.
#10 Home for Christmas
Alternate Title: Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas
Norman Rockwell moved to Stockbridge, Massachusetts in 1953 and he spent the last 25 year of his life there. He painted this picture of his home-town to epitomize the essence of Christmas in small towns across the country. Apart from using photographs of the buildings on Main Street, Rockwell used a variety of references to create this snowy winter scene. In addition to the public library, the insurance office, the barbershop, the Victorian hotel, etc., on the far right of the painting is the artist’s South Street home and studio. Rockwell’s affectionate portrait of his home-town has come to symbolize the holiday season. During the first weekend in December, Stockbridge recreates this iconic painting of its Main Street.
#9 Girl at Mirror
Girl at Mirror follows a long tradition in which famous artists including Edouard Manet and Pablo Picasso portrayed a female contemplating her reflection. In Rockwell’s painting a young girl is studying her own face in the reflection. On the floor by her bare feet are a vintage doll, an open tube of lipstick, a comb and a brush. She is sitting on a red stool and she has propped her mirror up with a chair. The picture on her lap is of Jane Russell, one of Hollywood’s leading sex symbols in the 1940s and 1950s. The girl in the picture is Mary Whalen Leonard, Rockwell’s favorite female model. The painting is thought to represent her anxiousness on being on the verge of womanhood and her fear that she is not yet ready. However, there are several other interpretations with some finding more sexual and deeper themes in the artwork. Girl at Mirror is one of the most analyzed and controversial works of Norman Rockwell.
#8 Saying Grace
This painting was created for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post’s 1951 Thanksgiving issue. It portrays a woman and a young boy saying grace in a crowded restaurant while the people around them glance in their direction. Rockwell was inspired to create this artwork by a reader of the magazine who saw a Mennonite family praying in a restaurant. In 1955, the readers of The Saturday Evening Post voted Saying Grace as their favorite ever cover. The painting was sold for $46 million in an auction at Sotheby’s in December 2013. At than time, it set the record for the most expensive American painting ever sold at auction. The $46 million paid for Saying Grace remains the highest known price paid for a Norman Rockwell artwork.
#7 The Runaway
The Runaway depicts a child on a stool with a state-police officer on his left and the counterman to his front. That the child is a wannabe vagabond can be inferred from the stick and handkerchief beneath the stool. Though the scene of a runaway child would usually evoke anxiety, Rockwell’s painting instead radiates comfort and safety due to the protective environment around the child. 30 years old Massachusetts State Trooper Richard J. Clemens posed as the police officer and 8 years old Ed Locke is the runaway child. The painting was staged in a Howard Johnson’s restaurant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts but Rockwell removed all traces of the chain restaurant “to suggest the kid had gotten a little further out of town”. The Runaway paints an idealized version of small-town America where the community is glad to watch over a child in trouble.
#6 Golden Rule
In 1952, inspired by the United Nation’s humanitarian mission, Norman Rockwell conceived an illustration in which he would paint sixty-five people representing the world’s nations. However, the following year, he abandoned the illustration, perhaps because it was too ambitious. Rockwell revisited the idea a decade later and this time decided to just focus on the idea of common humanity. This led to one of his most acclaimed works, Golden Rule. The painting features a gathering of men, women and children of different races, religions and ethnicity; and in front of them is written the simple but universal phrase: “Do Unto Others as You Would Have Them Do Unto You.” In 1985, a large mosaic of Rockwell’s Golden Rule was presented to the UN as a gift on behalf of US by the then First Lady Nancy Reagan. Since then, it has remained on display in UN’s New York City Headquarters.
#5 Triple Self-Portrait
Rockwell’s Triple Self-Portrait is inspired from a 17th century self portrait painted by Austrian painter Johannes Gumpp. It served as an illustration for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post of February 13, 1960. Triple Self-Portrait shows Rockwell from behind, looking at himself in a mirror and painting his own portrait. There are a lot of interesting details in the portrait including portraits of famous artists Albrecht Durer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh and Pablo Picasso pinned to the upper right of the painting. All of these were painted by Rockwell himself. Triple Self-Portrait is a renowned work in self-portraiture and one of Rockwell’s most famous paintings.
#4 Freedom of Speech
On January 6, 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave his renowned Four Freedoms speech in which he identified essential human rights that should be universally protected. In 1943, Norman Rockwell created four paintings corresponding to the four freedoms mentioned by Roosevelt. Freedom of Speech is the first painting in the Four Freedoms series of Rockwell and like most of his paintings, it is inspired from an actual occurrence. The painting shows a working-class man standing up in the audience at a town hall meeting to make his passionate point; with everyone paying attention to him. Four Freedoms series was a phenomenal success and it is the work for which Rockwell is most known. The paintings toured 16 cities as part of a War Bond Drive during the Second World War; and helped in raising $133 million worth of war bonds.
#3 Rosie the Riveter
Rosie the Riveter, a name first used in a 1942 song, is a cultural icon of US representing American women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II. Rockwell’s image of Rosie the Riveter appeared on the May 29, 1943 cover of the Saturday Evening Post and proved to be hugely popular. It portrays Rosie wearing denim work wear and eating her lunch sandwich. There is a rivet gun on her lap and under her shoes is a copy of Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. The model for the painting was 19-year-old Mary Doyle, a phone operator in Arlington, Vermont. Rockwell made the figure more muscular and much larger than Keefe was in real life as he needed the image to depict strength. Rockwell’s painting became an iconic symbol for the strength and contributions of women in the war effort during World War II. It is the most famous depiction of Rosie the Riveter and among the most renowned works of Norman Rockwell.
#2 The Problem We All Live With
This painting depicts Ruby Bridges, a six-year-old African-American girl who was the first black child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana after segregation in public schools was ruled to be unconstitutional by the Supreme court. In the painting, she is escorted by four deputy U.S. marshals due to threats of violence against her; and on the wall behind her, the racial slur “nigger” and the letters “KKK” are written. The Problem We All Live With is an iconic image of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States and one of the most famous and acclaimed paintings of Norman Rockwell. It was displayed in the White House when the 56 years old Ruby Bridges met with President Barack Obama in 2011.
#1 Freedom from Want
Alternate Title: The Thanksgiving Picture
Freedom from Want is the third and most renowned painting of the Four Freedoms series of Norman Rockwell. It depicts a multi-generational family gathered around a dinner table for a holiday meal. The grandmother is about to set the turkey down while the grandfather looks on with fondness and is ready to carve it. The people in the picture are friends and family of Rockwell, who were photographed individually and painted into the scene. Freedom from Want became a symbol of “family togetherness, peace, and plenty”. It is considered one of Rockwell’s finest works. Artistically, it is highly regarded as an example of mastery of the challenges of white-on-white painting. Freedom from Want has become the most famous representation of Thanksgiving in America and it has has been adapted and parodied numerous times. However, it is not exclusively associated with Thanksgiving and is also known as I’ll Be Home for Christmas.