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June 20, 2024

Norman Rockwell’s Reference Photos for His Famous Paintings

New York City-born Norman Rockwell worked as an artist and illustrator, and became famous for his powerful reflections on American culture. For the majority of his career he was most recognized for his ongoing cover illustrations for The Saturday Evening Post, and the continued work he did for Boy Scouts of America working on publications and calendars for them. It was only years later, after the Second World War, and after he left The Post, that Rockwell began receiving more attention for his paintings. This was due to his choice of subject matter becoming more serious and politicized, such as his series on racism for Look magazine.

Rockwell’s paintings are examples of narrative art, meaning he told rich stories by depicting a particular moment or sequence of events. His style leaned more towards Realism, a mid-19th century artistic movement characterized by subjects painted from everyday life in a naturalistic manner. This was at odds with the art trends of the time, which saw artists and collectors favoring Abstract Expressionism—where true-to-life depictions were abandoned and spontaneous, mark-making was embraced. Rockwell resisted pressure from critics to change his style and instead focused on new ways to develop his style.

A crucial part to his creative process was the use of reference photos to help with compositions and proportions of his subjects. Rockwell would set up these photos in his studio or on location and place people and props where he wanted them and get a photographer to take the pictures. He then worked from these, pasting them together to create his preferred composition.

Rather than use professional models, the artist often asked friends and family to be the stand-ins. Every element in their positioning, the clothes they were wearing posture, and hand gestures were all there to tell as realistic a story as possible.

(via Google Arts & Culture)


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