One of the most popular American artists of the past century, Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) was a keen observer of human nature and a gifted storyteller. His paintings graced more than 300 covers of the popular Saturday Evening Post magazine and he is one of the best-loved illustrators in the history of American art. A traveling exhibition of Rockwell’s paintings will open at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art on Saturday, March 9. American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell features 50 original Norman Rockwell paintings and a complete set of all 323 of Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post covers, and will be on view through May 27.
The exhibition also includes several beloved and well-known images, including Triple Self-Portrait (1960), Girl at Mirror (1954), Going and Coming (1947), and The Art Critic (1955). Also included are portraits of presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell was organized by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Mass. This exhibition is made possible with the generous support from National Endowment for the Arts, American Masterpieces Program; the Henry Luce Foundation; Curtis Publishing Company; Norman Rockwell Family Agency; and the Stockman Family Foundation.
This exhibition is sponsored at Crystal Bridges by the Bob Bogle Family, Cadillac of Bentonville, the Paul and June Carter Family, ConAgra Foods, Hallmark Cards, Inc., NWA Media/Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and Harriet and Warren Stephens, Stephens Inc.
Timed, reserved tickets will be required to view American Chronicles. Tickets are complimentary for members; $12 for non-members. Thanks to our sponsors, youth admission to American Chronicles is free.
“Rockwell’s images helped bring art to a broad segment of the public,” said Kevin Murphy, Crystal Bridges curator of American art. “His illustrations are so recognizable and popular that they helped make painted images part of mainstream visual culture.”
The exhibition also includes materials from the Norman Rockwell Museum’s archives demonstrating how the artist worked: proceeding from preliminary sketches, color studies, and detailed drawings to finished paintings. Also included are several posed and costumed photographs Rockwell staged as references for the figures in his paintings, often using himself and family members as models. In addition, the exhibition points out some of the artistic and cultural references that were often encoded in Rockwell’s work.
“Rockwell understood his place in popular culture of the time,” explained Murphy. “He understood that he had been adopted as an interpreter of the American dream, and he wanted his work to engage in the larger tradition of Western art, so he would put in references to great works of art through history. Sometimes they’re obvious, sometimes they’re not. It was a way for him to connect with great art of the past.”
Over time, Rockwell’s illustrations have come to symbolize an idealized American dream; representing the hopes and ideals of a bygone era. However, Rockwell was keenly aware of the social and political issues of his time. Murder in Mississippi, an illustration for Look magazine about the 1964 murder of three young civil rights workers, showcases his engagement with the civil rights struggle. The magazine eventually chose to use a preliminary sketch for publication, rather than the final painting. The original unpublished painting, as well as the oil sketch used for publication, are both included in this exhibition.
American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell presents an opportunity for families to talk, across generations, about the works and what they meant to readers of the Saturday Evening Post in the post-World War II era.
“Rockwell’s artwork is highly recognizable to a large audience—even if they have had limited opportunities to visit art museums,” said Crystal Bridges Director of Education and Exhibitions Niki Stewart. “By bringing American Chronicles to Crystal Bridges, we are creating an opportunity for people of many generations to see the original artworks, learn more about Rockwell’s process, and enjoy something that is both familiar and fascinating.”
Also on view in the Crystal Bridges Library will be letters and manuscripts belonging to Norman Rockwell, which are part of the Crystal Bridges Library collection. The materials will be rotated throughout the run of the exhibition and includes a series of five letters between Norman Rockwell and journalist David Cusick, in which they discuss topics ranging from photography to Rockwell meeting folk musician Bob Dylan in Woodstock, N.Y.
Crystal Bridges’ first pop-up shop, featuring Rockwell memorabilia and more, will open alongside the exhibition. The shop includes fixtures designed by the Fayetteville-based firm Marlon Blackwell Architect, which also designed Crystal Bridges’ award-winning museum store.
A wide range of public programs are offered in conjunction with the exhibition, including lectures, gallery talks, art workshops for a variety of ages, and more. An audio guide is available for visitors at no charge on a first-come, first-served basis, and a printed family guide is available as well.
More details on the exhibition, program offerings, and tickets can be found on the exhibition page.
Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art
June 29 through September 30
In the aftermath of the Civil War, the American girl seemed transformed—at once more introspective and adventurous than the previous generation. Although the culture still prized the demure female child of the past, many saw a bolder type as the new, alternate ideal. Girlhood was no longer simple, and the complementary images of angel and tomboy emerged as competing visions of this new generation. Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art explores the myriad ways artists portrayed young girls: from the sentimental, innocent stereotype to the free-spirited individual. The exhibition includes approximately 80 masterworks, including paintings, sculpture, prints, and photographs. Works by John Singer Sargent, Winslow Homer, and Thomas Eakins, together with those by leading women artists, such as Cecilia Beaux and Mary Cassatt, reveal a new, provocative psychological element not found in early Victorian portraiture; while the mischievous tomboys in Lilly Martin Spencer’s paintings and the pure angels in the works of Abbot Handerson Thayer underscore the complexity of girlhood. Angels & Tomboys: Girlhood in 19th-Century American Art was organized by the Newark Museum.
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