The Smithsonian American Art Museum has just opened an exhibition of the paintings of iconic American illustrator/painter Norman Rockwell from the collections of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, two American icons in their own right. Included are many familiar paintings by the somewhat reclusive New Englander. Cartainly this image titled The Connoisseur from 1962,
or this one from 1941 titled The Flirts. But that's the thing about Rockwell you get the feeling that you've seen any and everything that he's ever painted!
As a child in the 60's and 70's I lived in a world for more attuned to the message of The Connoisseur than that of The Flirts. The world was leaving Rockwell's innocence and charm and grappling with paradigms of honesty and rapid social change; a social order that was learning how to let go of nostalgia in favor of an unknown and radically more egalitarian future. A world that made about as much sense to the establishment as the abstract painting in the first image.
As I look at these painting now, through the shattered window pane of history, I am; however, far less critical. There was a time when I rejected Rockwell as quaint and out of touch. Now I see just how in touch he actually was. There lies within his paintings, at least some of them, an absurdity. What starts out as a joke, ends up as a pathetic and embarrassing, or in the case of The Jury, (a scene in a jury room where eleven chain smoking, bedraggled men beseech the lone hold out, an Audrey Hepburn look-a-like who sits calmly with her arms folded across her chest at the end of the table) amazed that a world run by men ever existed or managed to survive.
And the times, he loves to define the power and masculinity of men with cigars! I can't imagine how people survived the stench! Even poor Gary Cooper in this 1930 painting called Gary Cooper As The Texan.
Remember, I mentioned that whenever I see a Norman Rockwell painting, I feel like I've seen it before? That isn't always true, and this last image was quite an interesting example. Especially, since Rockwell traded on the truth of his fantasies (Santa Claus not-with-standing.)
So Mermaid from 1955 was a delightful discovery.
It's a wonderful little show. Enter from the west side of the atrium, it's there through the first of the new year.