Saturday, February 28, 2015

My Least Favorite Rockwell

Norman Rockwell made some great paintings.  I'll post about my favorite Rockwell soon.  But I thought I'd talk first about my least favorite.  This idea came out of a recent conversation with a friend who told me her least favorite Rockwell is the image I discussed in Rockwell's Gay Sailors.  I mentioned my least favorite picture in turn.  But then a funny thing happened.  I realized not only that it was not as bad as I thought, but that I'd never properly looked at it before.

I believe that not really looking at Rockwell's paintings is a common fault among his detractors.  (I make that point in this post.)  But I'm not silly enough to make that mistake!  Or so I'd have said until recently.  Mea Culpa.

Rockwell painted a lot.  So it's no surprise that he made plenty of fair to middling pictures, but one has always stood out for me as the worst.  It's this one.

The picture was published in 1919 as a cover for the Literary Digest.  It is an illustration for "The Story of the Lost Battalion."  If you're unfamiliar with the Lost Battalion, you should definitely read about what happened--this was a very real episode which led to 7 Congressional Medals of Honor, and multiple Distinguished Service Crosses.  It's no wonder there was a cover story about it in a major magazine.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Another Fake Rockwell

Almost a decade ago, Rockwell's "Breaking Home Ties" was found in the wall of an old house in Vermont, where it had been hidden for many years.  A copy--a forgery--had been hanging in the Norman Rockwell Museum.

Interesting story.  You can get the details from the New York Times and, more importantly, from John Howard Sanden.  Sanden saw the forgery in the museum for what it was.

Why didn't anyone else?  I mean, until the orginal was discovered?  Maybe nobody was looking all that carefully.

It seems it's happened again.  Twenty years ago, a couple bought a "Norman Rockwell" painting from a gallery in New York.  This was apparently a pretty well researched purchase--in addition to the gallery's own authentication, the couple got a second appraisal, and were told that everything looked good.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Norman Rockwell's Gay Sailors

(Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar....)

Over the last year or so, Deborah Solomon’s biography of Norman Rockwell has gotten a lot of attention, some laudatory, some extremely negative.  Recently, the New York Times listed it in its 100 “Notable” books of 2014.  This is unfortunate, for while the book is indeed notable, I don’t believe its notoriety is the sort implied through its inclusion on such a list.  It’s mainly notable for its outrageous falsifications and distortions. 

Some Criticism of Some Criticism

There have been some very bad things written about Norman Rockwell.  Deborah Solomon's biography American Mirror is the outstanding example here.  I've written a pretty fair amount about Solomon's very bad book--and there's a little more about it in Lift Up Thine Eyes.  Abigail Rockwell has also written a good deal about American Mirror.  Here are some links to this material.

My long review essay in First Things.

My first and second short pieces in Huffington Post.

Abigail Rockwell's first and second Huffington Post pieces.

These pieces are not particularly edifying, since the point of them is to show how badly Solomon has erred.  They shouldn't be necessary, but they are--Solomon's book is still selling, and still being nominated for awards, and such.  I'd like to make this post one of the few negative ones on this blog, and I'm getting it out of the way early.  My next post will also be negative.  I can't say it will be the very last such post--who knows?--but at least it will be the last for the foreseeable future.  Time to lift up our eyes.

Was Norman Rockwell's Art Really Rockwellian?

Bill Millis and his family have made a generous donation to The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA: namely the cute and sentimental picture often called “Puppy Love.” 

It’s a wonderful gesture on the part of the Mills family (my North Carolina neighbors), and I’m sure the museum staff is overjoyed to have the famous image on its way to them.  Still, as a Rockwell fan, I have to say—I can’t wait for this picture to get out of the news.  This picture strongly reinforces a widely-believed set of notions about Rockwell.  To wit: Rockwell painted cute kids doing cute stuff with their cute dogs.  Or their cute grandfathers.  Or with other cute kids.  There’s nothing deep or challenging about the art.  Nothing very interesting, either.  Rockwell is exactly what the word “kitsch” was made for.  Sentiment, artificiality, depthless nostalgic schmaltz.

That’s Rockwell’s public image, no doubt.  The trouble with this image is that it’s just false.  

Lift Up Thine Eyes

This is my first experiment in blogging.  At first, the blog will largely be about the art of Norman Rockwell.  This is appropriate, since the blog is named after a Rockwell painting.  This one.

Although it would be more accurate to say that the blog is named after my book on Norman Rockwell, which is named after this painting.  But my interest in Rockwell, though likely permanent, is not exclusive.  And the blog will eventually turn to other matters, especially the thought of G.K. Chesterton, and of St. Thomas Aquinas.  The blog's title will remain appropriate, since in every case my intention will be to exhort the reader to lift up his eyes.