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Original paintings and all 323 Saturday Evening Post covers included in new Norman Rockwell exhibition
Bill Scovill, 1955. Photograph of Norman Rockwell with preliminary studies for Art Critic in his Main Street, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, studio. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections©1955: NRELC.

BENTONVILLE, ARK.- One of the most popular American artists of the past century, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was a keen observer of human nature and a gifted storyteller. His paintings graced more than 300 covers of the popular Saturday Evening Post magazine and he is one of the best-loved illustrators in the history of American art. A traveling exhibition of Rockwell’s paintings opened at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Saturday, March 9. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell features 50 original Norman Rockwell paintings and a complete set of all 323 of Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers, and is on view through May 27.

The exhibition also includes several beloved and well-known images, including Triple Self-Portrait (1960), Girl at Mirror (1954), Going and Coming (1947), and The Art Critic (1955). Also included are portraits of presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.

“Rockwell’s images helped bring art to a broad segment of the public,” said Kevin Murphy, Crystal Bridges curator of American art. “His illustrations are so recognizable and popular that they helped make painted images part of mainstream visual culture.”

The exhibition also includes materials from the Norman Rockwell Museum’s archives demonstrating how the artist worked: proceeding from preliminary sketches, color studies, and detailed drawings to finished paintings. Also included are several posed and costumed photographs Rockwell staged as references for the figures in his paintings, often using himself and family members as models. In addition, the exhibition points out some of the artistic and cultural references that were often encoded in Rockwell’s work.

“Rockwell understood his place in popular culture of the time,” explained Murphy. “He understood that he had been adopted as an interpreter of the American dream, and he wanted his work to engage in the larger tradition of Western art, so he would put in references to great works of art through history. Sometimes they’re obvious, sometimes they’re not. It was a way for him to connect with great art of the past.”

Over time, Rockwell’s illustrations have come to symbolize an idealized American dream; representing the hopes and ideals of a bygone era. However, Rockwell was keenly aware of the social and political issues of his time. Murder in Mississippi, an illustration for Look magazine about the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers, showcases his engagement with the civil rights struggle. The magazine eventually chose to use a preliminary sketch for publication, rather than the final painting. The original unpublished painting, as well as the oil sketch used for publication, are both included in this exhibition.

American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell presents an opportunity for families to talk, across generations, about the works and what they meant to readers of the Saturday Evening Post in the post-World War II era.

“Rockwell’s artwork is highly recognizable to a large audience—even if they have had limited opportunities to visit art museums,” said Crystal Bridges Director of Education and Exhibitions Niki Stewart. “By bringing American Chronicles to Crystal Bridges, we are creating an opportunity for people of many generations to see the original artworks, learn more about Rockwell’s process, and enjoy something that is both familiar and fascinating.”

Also on view in the Crystal Bridges Library are letters and manuscripts belonging to Norman Rockwell, which are part of the Crystal Bridges Library collection. The materials will be rotated throughout the run of the exhibition and includes a series of five letters between Norman Rockwell and journalist David Cusick, in which they discuss topics ranging from photography to Rockwell meeting folk musician Bob Dylan in Woodstock, N.Y.

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