Thursday, August 5

Have You Thought About Norman Rockwell Lately?

I was lucky enough to be in Washington, D.C., last weekend.

Whenever I’m in D.C. I feel I must visit at least one art museum while I’m there. In Washington, you really have your pick, and you will never be disappointed.

This time it was between the Phillips Collection, the National Gallery, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Each had something I wanted to see.

The Phillips is supposed to have one of the best collections of Impressionist paintings in America, and I’ve never been to see it.

There was also an exhibit of Edvard Munch’s paintings at the National Gallery.

And there was a Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Smithsonian.

What to do?

Well, I chose the Norman Rockwell. It wasn’t the $12US per person charge at the Phillips. Really, it wasn’t. As it turned out, the Munch’s were merely prints of his paintings, and hey, I want to see the real thing.

That left the Smithsonian. Although I am not THAT big a fan of Rockwell, I am a movie fan, so I did want to see 'Telling Stories-Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg,’ the actual name of the exhibit.

I like Rockwell’s work although it can get to be a little schmaltz-y and tuggy-at-your-heart-strings for my taste if you know what I mean. For example, in the painting, Happy Birthday Miss Jones, there is a 1940s-era classroom in which a teacher beams out at the class that has ‘been bad’ by writing Happy Birthday all over the blackboard. Isn’t that swell? How times have changed.

I’m as sentimental and patriotic as the next guy, but if I could have given any advice, it would have been, “don’t overdo it.”

But he is an icon in American art. I think there are 65 paintings and charcoal-and-pencil studies of the paintings in the exhibit.

And his work and technique are certainly very fine. His subjects are rendered in a highly representational style. He had a long career lasting from World War I era through the 1970s.

Rockwell is probably the antithesis of en plein air painting. Almost all of his paintings were set up and staged; that is, he cajoled (or hired?) the models in his paintings to sit, stand, and otherwise be directed in the studio; hence, the tie-in with movie moguls Lucas and Spielberg.

I get it. But I still don’t necessarily like being swept up in one of Rockwell’s orchestrated scenes.

Until next blog…

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