norman rockwell at dulwich picture gallery

10 January 2011 § 3 Comments

A place renowned for its collection of 17th and 18th century European ‘Old Master’ paintings is hardly one where you would expect to bump in to an exhibition by the 20th century America illlustrator Norman Rockwell. Dulwich Picture Gallery has however been getting more adventurous of late and this delightful gallery in this leafy – and exclusive – southeast London enclave has an extensive show of Rockwell’s work running through until the 27th March 2011.

Rockwell is best known for the distinctive covers which graced the popular magazine, The Saturday Evening Post. All three hundred or so of his cover illustrations are shown here as well as around forty originals oils that he created not only for the Post, but also for other publications or advertisments.

He was by far America’s best-loved illustrator of the century – famous, well-known and admired. His work, created in oil on canvas, was of the highest quality and minutely observed owing much in technique and even style to the European artists that hang in Dulwich’s permanant collection. Perhaps this modest link is this why he is here, but we are not told and most certainly his presence in such a venerated gallery does not elevate his work to the status of ‘art’.

He painted detailed scenes of everyday life and presented American values as he saw them. They are often described using terms like heart-warming, affectionate and sentimental. They are however frequently overly-emotional as well as being idealised, twee and cloying. Although these are oils of the highest technical execution they would only be ‘elevated’ to fine art by the likes of those who view Jack Vettriano as a great post-modern painter. This is not to belittle Rockwell but to place him firmly where he deservedly belongs – as one of the finest illustrators of the century and a deft chronicler of a particular set of early and mid-20th century American views and ideals – and these are naturally white, middle-class and conservative.

This is a modest exhibition in a lovely venue and is well worth an afternoons excursion because of that, but in another venue it would be hard to recommend other than out of mild curiosity.

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§ 3 Responses to norman rockwell at dulwich picture gallery

  • Simon Forrest says:

    Rockwell was no more sugary that Boucher or Fragonard and they are revered as great painters. He was agreat technician, and a great great storyteller and in most people’s book that would qualify him as an artist. Ho hum…

    • He was a great illustrator and I think that is what Norman Rockwell himself would have aimed to be. My modest and amateur opinion is actually very much in line with most art critics. The ‘elevation’ of Rockwell from illustrator to artist is in line with some similar, and often very questionable, ‘reassessments’ occurring nowadays, particularly in the field of journalistic and fashion photography! Let us admire these people for what they are – brilliant illustrators, fine fashion photographers or clever paparazzi.

  • Kev Ferrara says:

    Since man first began making art, art has been illustrative. To distinguish Illustration from Art is repeating modernist brainwashing.

    The greatest artists of the 20th century were illustrators. Norman Rockwell was one of the best, when he wasn’t doing corny stuff.

    So, really, Rockwell hasn’t been elevated. People have just begun waking up from their brainwashing. The public is generally sheep, particularly the so called intellectual set.

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