|On May 29, 2011, our Season Opening Weekend, the Boston Globe published a glowing write-up of the National Museum of American Illustration (NMAI) and our Norman Rockwell: American Imagist exhibition by the noted Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Robert Campbell.|
succinctly summarizes the genesis of the Museum, details of Vernon
Court (the Gilded Age mansion housing the collection), the definition of
illustration art and the role it played in American history, and the
virtues of the genre. He further discusses our current Norman Rockwell
exhibition's enthusiastic reception at London's Dulwich Picture Gallery
prior to its return to Newport for the summer. All this and the added
exhibition entitled In Our Time, showing illustration artworks by noted author and illustrator Tom Wolfe.
Campbell's text follows below: One can also read the article on the Boston Globe's website by clicking here.
NEWPORT, R.I. - It's one of my favorite museums in New England, or anywhere for that matter, yet hardly anyone has heard of it.
Imagine a beautiful formal gift box which, when you open it, turns out to be filled with wonderful toys.
That's the best way I can think to describe the National Museum of American Illustration here.
gift box is the museum building itself. Known as Vernon Court, it began
its life in 1898 as one of the great mansions, or so-called "cottages,"
on Newport's famous Bellevue Avenue. The toys inside are hundreds of
works by the so-called American Illustrators - artists who created
images primarily for publication, as illustrations in books, magazines,
or advertisements. Norman Rockwell is the best known.
Grand Salon with Library beyond
start with the building, which opened for the summer season this
weekend. Vernon Court is a classic example of the kind of architecture
that pleased newly rich Americans who were trying to live like the
aristocrats of Europe. It's an imitation of an 18th-century
French country chateau. The architects, Carrere & Hastings, were
second only to McKim Mead & White among the architects of what Mark
Twain called "the Gilded Age." Among the firm's other gems are the New
York Public Library and the Frick mansion, now a museum on Fifth Avenue.
house itself is worth the visit. Pure white in color and looking like
rare marble (actually it is white paint over smooth stucco), it
immediately suggests a kind of innocence often sought by the heirs of
the robber barons. It is as if the immaculate architecture were saying,
"My hands are clean."
South Loggia with Tiffany Murals and Illustration artwork
the highlight is a garden pavilion, once open-air but now enclosed in
glass, in which the walls and ceilings are covered with Tiffany murals
of birds and cupids cavorting among pergolas and greenery.
house, like other Newport mansions, was intended as an enduring family
seat but soon fell into decline. It was vacant when, in 1998, it was
purchased at a bargain price by Laurence and Judy Cutler. They filled it
with their personal collection of American illustration art and opened
it as a public museum in 2000. The Cutlers still run the museum
themselves, full time and more. There is no advertising budget.
Petit Salon derived from Marie Antoinette's private suite at Versailles
anyone who loves the art of the American illustrators, this museum is a
feast. The Cutlers define "The Golden Age of American Illustration" as
1850-1950, an era before the omnipresence of photography. It was a time
when the best way to help a reader visualize a scene, in a book,
magazine, or wherever, was to hire an artist and publish a picture.
Illustration was a vernacular art, a practical art, not a
self-consciously fine art, and the highbrows looked down on it. But it
certainly had its masters.
Ballroom with Rose Garden Loggia beyond
fewer than 148 artists are listed in the catalog. All of Rockwell's 322
actual printed covers for the Saturday Evening Post magazine are here,
each handsomely framed. These are images that don't need a text; they
tell a story by themselves. The Post was a magazine that once was in
almost every American home, the way a TV is today.
Mural panel (1 of 18) from Parrish's Florentine Fete series, in Rose Garden Loggia
are dozens of original Rockwells in oil, too, as well as original works
by the other great names, most now forgotten, of the illustration
movement. They include Maxfield Parrish (whose most popular image,
"Daybreak," is said by Cutler to have once adorned a fourth of all US
homes, and whose 17-foot-wide mural, "Florentine Fete," is one of the
museum's masterpieces), N.C. Wyeth (whose most popular illustrations for
boys' books make a fascinating contrast to the frozen, understated
works of his son Andrew), Charles Dana Gibson (inventor of the
fashionable Gibson Girl), James Montgomery Flagg (who did the "Uncle Sam
Wants YOU" recruiting poster), Howard Pyle (founder of the first school
of illustration), Thomas Nast (editorial cartoonist), Frederic
Remington (western art), and many more.
you think of the work as art, and I like a lot of it, it's impossible
not to be impressed by the command of craftsmanship. Rockwell and others
studied at fine art academies. Some of the best things in the museum
are Rockwell's painstaking black-and-white charcoal studies for what
later became finished color paintings.
year the museum sent an exhibition, "Norman Rockwell's America," to the
Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, normally a venue for traditional
art. How did the Brits react to what the Cutlers call "the most American
of American art"? An e-mail to the Globe from Ian Dejardin, the
Dulwich's director, says the show went "triumphantly well," that it got a
lot of press ranging from the "ecstatic" to the "dizzyingly snobbish,"
and that it drew the third highest attendance in the gallery's long
of that success may be the result of the Noble Savage tradition, in
which intellectual Europeans are often fascinated by American folk
heroes such as cowboys and gangsters. I suppose the
illustrators can be seen that way, as home-bred, do-it-yourself
creators, as opposed to the snotty world of academic art.
"Rockwell's America" is back in Newport now, where it will
remain all summer. Also on view, besides the permanent collection, is
an exhibition of cartoons and caricatures by the writer Tom Wolfe. Wolfe
gave a talk at the museum last year in which he praised illustration
and dissed contemporary art.
people, as Dejardin notes, are snobs about illustration art. They think
it is too popular, too sentimental. That was especially true in the
heyday of modernist abstraction in the mid-to-late 20th
century. Since then, though, there has been a revival of interest in the
vernacular in almost every field of art, music, and literature. At
Harvard there is now a course on Bob Dylan. And the high price to date
for an original Rockwell oil is a respectable $15.8 million.
Tom Wolfe delivering speech on virtues of illustration at the NMAI's 10th Anniversary Gala, July 29, 2010
is well to remember that many famed artists, from Winslow homer to Andy
Warhol, began their careers as commercial illustrators. And some greats
in other fields, say Shakespeare and Dickens, were regarded largely as
pop artists in their day. Neither hesitated to present characters that
were cartoon spoofs of reality. And of course an
artist such as Japan's Hokusai (1760 - 1849), like the American
illustrators, created work primarily to be reproduced.
museum has its own fan club. Among its members are filmmaker George
Lucas, Yale historian Vincent Scully, actress Whoopi Goldberg, and
former Globe cartoonist Paul Szep, all of whom are trustees or advisers.
art fell victim to the rise of other media. It's fascinating to
remember it or discover it, depending on your age, at Vernon Court.
Works by J.C. Leyenecker (top) and Norman Rockwell (bot.) in Petit Salon _______________________________________________________________________________
Popular Norman Rockwell Show Returning to Newport
Providence Journal, 5/22/11:
The Sunday, May 22, 2011 edition of the Providence Journal
published an article written by Art & Architecture critic Bill Van
Siclen announcing our May 28 season opening, quoting NMAI founders Judy
and Laurence Cutler on the return of our Norman Rockwell exhibition to
Newport, and the Tom Wolfe exhibition also on display.
Van Siclen's text follows below. One can also read the article on the Providence Journal website by clicking here._______________________________________________________________________________
NEWPORT - How popular is Norman Rockwell?
popular that the National Museum of American Illustration is doling out
a second helping of "Norman Rockwell: American Imagist," a 2009 exhibit
that featured more than 50 paintings, drawings and other works by
America's best-loved illustrator. The show, which recently returned from
a record setting run in London, opens May 28 at the museum's Bellevue
been so popular that we had to bring it back," said museum co-founder
Judy Goffman Cutler. "The show has been traveling for the past year -
most recently to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London. So we're looking
at this as a kind of encore performance in Newport."
Cutler said the show shattered attendance
records at the Dulwich, which opened in 1811 and is considered England's
oldest public art gallery. "Day after day, people were lined up around
the block," she said. "The curators at the Dulwich said they'd never
seen anything like it."
Visitors at Dulwich Picture Gallery, London, viewing Rockwell's Russian Schoolroom
illustration museum, which owns works by Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth
and other illustrators as well as Rockwell, contributed the bulk of the
show's artworks. Other pieces are on loan from private collections.
Among the highlights: Rockwell's first-ever magazine cover (a simple
fishing scene created for a forerunner of Field and Stream); "Bridge
Game - The Bid," a dizzying overhead view of card players that's among
Rockwell's most intricate creations; and several paintings from
Rockwell's later years, when he took up causes such as civil rights and
school desegregation. "Basically, there's something from every stage of
his career," Cutler said.
The Bid. Norman Rockwell, 1948
Tom Wolfe works on display in Lower Level Gallery 1
addition to the Rockwell show, the museum is hosting a small exhibit of
drawings by Tom Wolfe. Though best known as an author, Wolfe, whose
books include "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" and
"Bonfire of the Vanities," is also a talented cartoonist and caricaturist.
"It's a side of Tom that most people don't get to see," said Cutler.
The Man Who Peaked Too Soon. Tom Wolfe, 1979
Rockwell: American Imagist" and "Tom Wolfe: In Our Time" open Saturday,
May 28 at the National Museum of American Illustration, 492 Bellevue
Ave., Newport. Museum hours (as of May 28): Sat. 11-5 and Sun. 11-5 for
general admission and for a 3 p.m. guided tour on Fridays; all other
times are by reservation only. Admission: $18 adults, $16 seniors, $12
students with ID and $8 ages 5-12. Contact: (401) 851-8949, ext. 18 or
Three New Advisory Board Members
the past six months, NMAI added three distinguished persons to our
Advisory Board. An illustrious grouping with wide-ranging expertise,
education, and cultural interests, the members are formidable amongst
museums and cultural institutions for their influences on American
culture. We are pleased to announce the addition of these members.
Lady Lucinda Lambton,
International Council Advisory Board member is a writer, broadcaster,
photographer, celebrator of the architecturally curious, and wife of
noted journalist and social commentator Sir Peregrine Worsthorne. Among
the 80 films she has written and presented, 55 were for the BBC,
including Old New World, a series on American architecture; and 25 films for Britian's ITV including Sublime Suburbia
(UK's best documentary series of 2003). She was the subject of a BBC
half hour special portrait. She has taken photographs for and written 16
books, ranging from architecture as varied as a history of the lavatory
in Temples of Convenience, with toilets dating from Roman to modern times, to Palaces for Pigs,
revealing delights such as pyramids for poultry, castles for salmon,
and memorials to rats, fish, and a robin. Mark Twain's mother was a
Lambton relative, and his cousin William Lambton was the inspiration
for Huckleberry Finn. She lectures for Britain's National Trust at The
Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Oak Foundation, and the National Arts
Collection Fund at the Royal Geographic Society. As for American
Illustration, the mere thought of it "sends my spirits soaring to the
National Council Advisory Board member, is President and CEO of Greif
& Co., which he founded in 1992 following a successful investment
banking career as Vice Chairman of Sutro & Co. Incorporated, the
oldest investment banking firm in the West. Greif & Co.
provides financial advisory services for middle-market growth companies. Renowned as The Entrepreneur's Investment Bank, Greif & Co.'s creed is intelligence, strength, wisdom, aggressiveness, and integrity. Mr. Greif holds a BA from UCLA, MBA from USC, and JD from Loyola Law School. He
has received the Entrepreneurial Spirit Award from the Boy Scouts of
America, the Corporate Excellence Award from Loyola Law School, and
is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Police
Foundation, past Chairman of the Los Angeles Economic Development
Corporation, a member of the Board of Directors of the California
Chamber of Commerce, a member of the Board of Directors of USC
Associates, a member of the Board of Trustees of the Florence Academy of
Art, a member of the Board of Overseers of Loyola Law School and
benefactor of the Lloyd Greif Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at USC's Marshall School of Business. He
is an internationally recognized authority in the field of mergers,
acquisitions, and corporate finance and has a great and deep-seated love
of illustration art.
Gene J. Brockland,
National Council Advisory Board member is Partner in the noted law firm
of Herzog Crebs LLP of St. Louis, MO. He holds a BA from the
University of Virginia, and a JD from Washington University School of
Law. Mr. Brockland has practiced law for over 25 years primarily
in commercial and civil litigation, and represents artists and arts
organizations, including non-profit foundations. He has tried numerous
cases in state and federal courts throughout the nation. His interest in
American illustration art was piqued by his successful handling of the
famous Russian Schoolroom case, resolving an ownership dispute
concerning a stolen Norman Rockwell painting once owned by Steven
Spielberg in the 1980s. As a result of that case, the painting is part
of the NMAI collection. Mr. Brockland replaced late NMAI National
Council Advisory Board member Martin S. Bressler, Esq., founder of the
Visual Artists Gallery Association (VAGA). Mr. Bressler set as a
precedent a very high standard in his role as Advisory Board member; one
which Mr. Brockland has excelled in meeting.