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Norman Rockwell’s Photo Realism

Norman Rockwell’s rosy illustrations of small town American life looked so photographic because his method was to copy photographs that he conceived and meticulously directed, working with various photographers and using friends and neighbors as his models. “The Runaway” (1958) is one example from the recently published Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera (Little, Brown and Company, 2009). More about Rockwell’s photo realism, including an image gallery, is currently on NPR’s web site. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusettes is also hosting an exhibition, and according to NPR, will put Rockwell’s digitized photographic archive online at the end of the year.

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  1. In response to the concept that Rockwell is “cliche” – well, the reason he might be seen as cliche is that his work was so loved that it became the “norm.” Sort of the same way that we call all adhesive bandages “BandAids” , or all facial tissue as “Kleenexes”. Rockwell captured the heart and soul of Americana so fully that he actually became the American brand. Hardly trite.
    (And just an aside about the comment regarding the black and white photography – color photography and processing didn’t become popular til a couple of decades after Rockwell took most of these photos.)

  2. Yesterday I was in Washington DC and saw a collection of Mr. Rockwell’s owned by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. After reading the negative comments here, I’m trying to understand the issue with tracing. If he projected and traced his photos on canvass. If he altered them a bit, as any artist would do, and colorized them the way he did. Then what is the problem? I wish I could have the patients to do that to the scale that he did. It doesn’t matter how he did it. He was good at it and it made him a good living. Where’s your work? What is your name? That’s what I thought. No one has ever heard of you.

  3. Rockwell got his big break in illustrator in 1912, yet he didn’t use photos until 1937. He was a professional illustrator for 25 years before he ever used photos. Rockwell was a classically trained painter who knew how to actually paint, unlike painters today, who are dependent upon tracing photos. Unlike painters today, in Rockwell’s time you had to learn to paint extremely well from plaster casts and living models before you were even allowed to do more “composed” paintings. Rockwell studied classical painting from the time he was 14, and mastered it by the time he was 17. Everything at this time was painted from observation, not photos. After he mastered painting from life, his teacher (another famous illustrator) introduced him to magazine art directors, which is how he got his career in the first place.

  4. I was fortunate to see the Smithsonian exhibit this week. I’ve always admired
    Rockwell’s work and visited his museum, but I’d never seen his large oil paintings. They are absolutely fabulous. I was surprised at the size of the paintings. Because I’d seen them as illustrations I guess I assumed they were a much smaller size which given the detail would have been easier to paint. The color and detail are amazing. You can almost feel the texture in the clothing. I know how much time it takes to set up a fairly simple still life so the time and thought he put into his work is astounds me. The exhibit had full size drawings he did in preparation for each of his paintings. It was interesting to see the changes he made even from the drawings to the final paintings. Almost all of the drawings had personal notes to the person he gave the drawings to after he’d finished the painting. A very generous man. If you have to opportunity to see the exhibit don’t miss it.

  5. Unreal. The man was a genius yet so hard to ba acknowledge. The traveling show is at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh..i hope to see his beautiful and imaginative works.

    Anyone try composing a photo? If you view his painting vs his reference photo you will see he made changes corrections really.

    Anyone try just painting a color photo identical period…try it and see how difficult. You can’t do it without creativity.

    Anyone try to paint a color painting from a B/W photo…this is where his technical knowledge and skill shows.

    Some of his paintings are not of the illustrative style and more fine art.

    Very sad that Rockwell can’t even get respect tho he is dead.

  6. תצפית טכנולוגיות הינה החברה הותיקה בענף האבטחה והמיגון אנו מתקינים מערכות אבטחה,מצלמות אבטחה במעגל סגור עם צפייה בשידור חי דרך האנטרנט, מערכות אזעקה ובקרה בכל חלקי הארץ.

  7. אנו מתקינים מצלמות אבטחה ומערכות מיגון בכל חלקי הארץ, שיווק מצלמות אבטחה מהמתקדמות בעולם ולכל צורך ומטרה, לבקרה,מיגון,אבטחה של הבית או העסק.
    אנו מתקינים מצלמות אבטחה בירושלים, מצלמות אבטחה בתל אביב, מצלמות אבטחה בחיפה, מצלמות אבטחה בקריות ועוד

  8. מצלמות אבטחה בימנו הינן חלק יעיל ובלתי נפרד בניהולו התקין והשוטף של כל עסק, מצלמות אבטחה הן כלי שימושי לאבטחה ובקרה על העסק או הבית.
    תצפית טכנולוגיות הינה החברה הותיקה בענף האבטחה והמיגון אנו מתקינים מערכות אבטחה,מצלמות אבטחה במעגל סגור עם צפייה בשידור חי דרך האנטרנט, מערכות אזעקה ובקרה בכל חלקי הארץ.

  9. What a gem of a post! As a children’s illustrator I pour over inspirational work like this. I have a small book on Rockwell’s paintings and I treasure it. It was fantastic seeing the actual photographs he worked from. What great models he had too. Their expressions are what made Rockwell’s work so wonderful. That and his skill of course..

  10. Whether he traced the photos or not, which many well-known artists do today, for the sake of saving time, you STILL have to have the skill to do the rest, and complete the painting. Tracing the photo does not mean the rest of the process is going to be easy. Trust me. It’s a step to save time, to transfer the image, and most artists who do this, could draw the subject by hand if they wanted, but it takes a lot more time. There will be other problems along the creative process, that the artist will have to solve.

    Any person without artistic skill, will not be able to trace a photo and make it look like Rockwell did. I don’t see the big deal about using photos. I’ve seen MANY artists do it.

  11. I have always admired Norman Rockwell, as a person and as an artist. We visited Stockbridge every summer for the Tanglewood music festival. It was like revisiting the scenes depicted in his paintings. And I was lucky to have met some of the people in town. The guy behind the counter in the famous painting with the cop and the little kid looked older and the soda shop more “shopworn” but I could still imagine the scene he photo-graphed. To me it matters not that he was aided by the photographs. The fact remains that his art was appreciated and loved by many. Each artist has a choice of technique, and Norman Rockwell chose his. Let no one fault him for it.

  12. שיווק מצלמות אבטחה מהמתקדמות בעולם ולכל צורך ומטרה, לבקרה,מיגון,אבטחה של הבית או העסק.
    אנו מתקינים מצלמות אבטחה בירושלים, מצלמות אבטחה בתל אביב, מצלמות אבטחה בחיפה, מצלמות אבטחה בקריות

  13. I think Rockwell was amazing and he created great images. He was a master of storytelling color and a decent draftsman.

    BUT!!! What about Leyendecker?

    I think it’s sad that all these years later Rockwell is given more credit than his predecessor J C Leyendecker. For one Rockwell studied under him and people don’t recognize that most of Rockwell’s graphic compositions are directly related to Leyendeckers work. Second Leyendecker had a much better understanding of the human form and design. He was also responsible for creating the iconic images of Santa clause and the traditions of mother’s day. That being said if you don’t know about Leyendecker look him up you will be amazed by the parallels between the two.

  14. It is entirely possible to study and appreciate Rockwell’s great technical skill apart from the subject matter – and do so without writing churlish or immature insults at other people.

  15. thanks you teach me lot.you are living legend Truly inspirration for amateur artist.all your painting are mind blowing.

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