U.S. #2839 – Rockwell’s famous Triple Self-Portrait, created in 1960.

Death of Acclaimed Illustrator Norman Rockwell

On November 8, 1978, the world lost one of its most prolific artists – Norman Rockwell.

Norman Rockwell was born in New York, New York in 1894. His illustrations were first published in Founders of Our Country in 1912. That same year, he was hired as a staff artist for Boys’ Life magazine, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America. In this role, he received $50 a month to produce a cover and a set of story illustrations. The following year at just 19 years old, Rockwell was promoted to art editor for the magazine. In addition to creating his own art for the publication, he also supervised the work assigned to other artists.

U.S. #2840 – Rockwell’s Four Freedoms were perhaps his most well-known paintings.

Soon, other publishers began to hire him to illustrate children’s books and magazines. He continued to work for Boys’ Life until 1916, when he received a coveted position with The Saturday Evening Post. During his tenure at the Post, Rockwell also did illustrations for the American Red Cross’ monthly magazine. He continued to include images of Boy Scouts in his work for both of these publications.

U.S. #3502s pictures Rockwell’s Doctor and Doll which appeared on the Saturday Evening Post in 1929.

Rockwell’s artistic style continued to mature during the 1930s, which led to him being honored by the Art Director’s Club for the Best Advertising Poster of 1940. Then, as the world was engulfed in war, he turned his attention to new topics. He created G.I. Willie Gillis, a fictional soldier, and traced his journey through the war. Rockwell also put his own spin on Rosie the Riveter (view the image here).

U.S. #1470 – In the 1930s, Rockwell was commissioned to paint scenes from the Mark Twain novels Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

Perhaps Rockwell’s most famous illustrations were the Four Freedoms, based on President Roosevelt’s 1941 address to Congress. Rockwell’s moving paintings were sent out on a 16-city tour to raise money for war bonds. Over one million people saw them and donated more than $130 million. The images were then published in The Saturday Evening Post, furthering their popularity.

U.S. # 1145 – Rockwell worked with the scouts longer than any other organization. (Click the image to learn a neat story behind this drawing.)

Rockwell continued with The Post until 1963, but kept working for other magazines such as McCall’s and Look. He also continued working with the Boy Scouts, creating his last commission for the organization at the age of 82 – a calendar illustration titled, The Spirit of ‘76. Over the course of his career, he produced 471 images for the Scouts that were used in periodicals, guidebooks, calendars, and promotional materials. Working with the Scouts for 64 years, it was the longest professional association of his career.

In all, Rockwell created over 4,000 works, including 321 Saturday Evening Post covers. He also illustrated covers for many other magazines including Family Circle, Life, McCall’s, Popular Science, and TV Guide.

U.S. #1238 pictures Rockwell drawing of an 1860s letter carrier.

Although good training, technique and meticulous research all played a part, much of his popularity is due to the sensitivity and deep affection he brought to his subjects. Author Robin Langley Sommer stated, “His feeling for the beauty and importance of everyday life was of a rare order, and his ability to make others feel it as well was surely not far removed from genius. This gift for perceiving what E.B. White called the glory of everything is Norman Rockwell’s most enduring legacy.”

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  1. I have always loved Norman Rockwell’s art. I was a fine art student in college and when I said he was my favorite artist you would think I had just said a curse word. What do you expect from snobbish professors. I am still an artist and I only wish I could evoke the feelings that he did in my paintings.

    1. Ah! The old Saturday Evening Post was quite the magazine. Lots of good short stories too, by such authors as Sigman Byrd. Norman Rockwell helped make the Saturday Evening Post one of the most attractive of the magazines. His illustrations were supplemented by fine illustrations accompanying the short stories and the advertisements.

  2. I have always loved Norman Rockwell paintings and drawings! 🙂 I have several books and prints devoted to his work. My husband and I visited his homestead and museum in Stockbridge, MA one year and so enjoyed seeing the genius of this man, up close and personal. Very gifted and always captured the spirit and essence of his subjects. His work always looked like a photograph and, I might add, better than anything produced today. RIP Norman.

  3. Norman Rockwell’s unique style of making a character come to life on a magazine cover was a joy to perceive. There was never any doubt that it was a Norman Rockwell work.There will never be another like him.

  4. Rockwell’s paintings always stir wonderful memories for me of childhood and young adulthood. Thanks Mystic for the walk down memory lane and a wonderful article about one of the great artists of the 20th Century and the United States.

  5. I remember in the late 50’s, my father bought ‘The Saturday Evening Post’ -mainly for Norman Rockwell’s illustrations. I still think they are all-time classic art.

  6. I have enjoyed Norman Rockwell all my life. I am a retired band director and found apiece depicting some of Rockwell’s better known pieces including the 4 freedoms. Performed same with slide presentation. The audience loved it.

  7. When I was a 5th grade public school teacher, I had a Norman Rockwell book in my classroom. It was a large book featuring his portraits and paintings. I would hold the book up in front of the class, and ask them to guess the names of the different pictures. Several years ago, one student who is an adult now, visited me and said that that was the only thing he actually remembers from the fifth grade. He also has a Norman Rockwell autographed numbered print.

  8. Although I’m 68 now, Ican still remember looking foward to going to My grandmother’s house just so I could go through her copies of The Saturday Evening Post. She had almost every copy to date then. Wish I knew where they ar today. For some reason I still have an uncancelled 5 cent “Letter Carrier” stamp tucked away in My jewelery box. I consider Rockwell th be one of the greatest artists of our time.
    Keep up the good work MYSTIC! !

  9. Have always loved the work of Mr. Rockwell…represents ‘Americana”, so many subjects from different eras, so well…anybody who can should make a visit to Stockbridge home and museum

  10. Thank you so much Mystic. I remember the Saturday Evening Post putting in a regular appearance on our coffee table in the 1950s. My Father loved NORMAN ROCKWELL and I did as well.
    My life is richer today from all the education I received through his artwork.
    I still enjoy looking at anything by NORMAN ROCKWELL.
    That Artist is an American Treasure to me. Blessings

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