March 10, 2011  
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Rockwell Meets The Old Masters at Dulwich

Dulwich visitor viewing Saturday Evening Post covers from Norman Rockwell's America...In England

On December 15, 2010, the exhibition Norman Rockwell's America...In England debuted at Dulwich Picture Gallery, the oldest art museum in the United Kingdom. The exhibition, organized by the National Museum of American Illustration (Newport, RI), and the American Illustrators Gallery (NYC), features 40 original paintings by Norman Rockwell, as well as all 323 of the vintage Saturday Evening Post covers illustrated by the artist.  


The exhibition drew record setting attendance at Dulwich, as well as critical acclaim following its debut. The super-positive reviews and crowd levels have continued since.  With the March 27 end of the exhibition's London showing drawing near, we share with our MuseNews subscribers a short essay written by NMAI Museum Director and Co-Founder Judy Goffman Cutler which describes the genesis of Norman Rockwell's America...In England, as well as why Dulwich - with one of Europe's most notable collections of Old Master paintings - is a particularly appropriate venue for viewing Norman Rockwell's art.     



The following exhibition observation was authored by Judy Goffman Cutler and originally published online in Dulwich On View, February 25, 2011.  


During the Spring of 2009, my husband Laurence and I travelled to London on a brief business trip. Once there, we visited Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Sickert in Venice exhibition. While walking through the early 19th century building surrounded by their outstanding collection, we decided to introduce ourselves to the Gallery's director.

Luckily, Director Ian Dejardin was available and graciously came down to the Gallery to meet with us. After brief introductions it became clear that a mutual love of both American and Illustration art would make a joint exhibition possible. Our Norman Rockwell's America  was in the middle of a tour in the US and had an opening for the Winter 2010-2011. There, beneath the Old Masters whose techniques and styles influenced Rockwell's oeuvre so immensely, an agreement was reached to bring Rockwell to England for the first time ever.

In seemingly no time, summer passed and we were back in London for the installation of Norman Rockwell's America. Now, viewing Rockwell's paintings alongside the multitude of Old Masters' works surpassed my expectations of what new meaning this could bring to Rockwell for both the audience and myself, alike.  

Santa's Workshop. Norman Rockwell, 1922

Girl at Window, Rembrandt

Girl at Window. Rembrandt, 1645


Rembrandt's stylistic play of light in Girl at a Window echoes throughout Rockwell's Santa's Workshop. The model's angled position toward the viewer and direct light from an unseen outside source gives a sense of gentle intimacy to this moment of Santa's quiet self-amusement, similar to Rembrandt's softness in his portrayal of this young girl.

Winchester Stage Coach, Norman Rockwell

Winchester Stage Coach. Norman Rockwell, 1941

The largest piece we brought to Dulwich, Winchester Stagecoach, shows a bustling English town during the hectic Christmas season. Rockwell's composition, cropping the action so ambient characters are only shown in small portions around the central figures, is the same as the Old Master rendering of actions scenes from within a story, such as Poussin's Triumph of David.

The Triumph of David. Nicolas Poussin, 1628-1631

Poussin illustrates the biblical story of David and Goliath with David's victory parade, carrying the head of Goliath on a spear as the crowds celebrate in their wake. Despite the number of non-essential characters in the painting, Poussin is able to direct the viewer's attention to David while the remaining figures simply add to the scene's atmosphere and excitement; Rockwell used this same technique for his characters in the Winchester  shopping scene.

Finally, I was struck by Rockwell's interpretation of Old Masters' renderings of narrative scenes. In Guido Reni's St. John the Baptist, he used a dynamic diagonal position for the central character and incorporated small, but crucial, background elements to convey an entire story to the viewer.


  St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness. Guido Reni, 1636

It is through this technique of choosing only the crucial elements from within a story to include that made Rockwell such a successful cover artist. In Christmas Knight, the knight takes a similar diagonal position as he peers through the stained glass window to glimpse the festivities occurring just inside. The viewer instantly understands the larger context from which this moment was isolated, drawing them into the magazine.

Christmas Knight. Norman Rockwell, 1930

When Rockwell was only sixteen years old he left high school to enroll in the National Academy of Design in New York City and then the Art Students League to develop his early artistic talents. It was this formal training as a fine artist and  in his study of Old Masters that he developed the skill, style and technique that would later be interpreted into successful illustrations, gracing the covers of the nation's most popular magazines.

Viewing these works in the context of Dulwich's collection, I can not help but wonder what  future generations of artists will take from Rockwell's works and what they will make of it.

It is this continual renewing of the foundations set forth by previous generations that has allowed the arts within each nation to develop into what they are today. This exhibition has given us, as Americans, the rare opportunity to share with a new British audience the images that we have grown up with. It is our hope that by furthering this connection between American and British art, we will inspire future artists in both countries. 


Norman Rockwell's America...In England will show at Dulwich until March 27. The exhibition Norman Rockwell's America...In Newport will debut in Newport, Rhode Island on Saturday, May 28, to coincide with the beginning of our Summer 2011 General Admissions Season.  

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The Museum is open Fridays for a guided tour only at 3pm sharp, and year-round for visitors and Group Tours by advance reservations. General Admissions Hours resume Memorial Day weekend, 2011. 

Tickets:Adults: $18; Seniors (60+) & Military: $16; Students w/id: $12; Children ages 5 to 12: $8. Children ages 5 to 12 are permitted only if they are vouchsafed by parents or guardians as being 'well-behaved.'

Visitors at Norman Rockwell's America...In England

The National Museum of American Illustration is a nonprofit, independent, educational and aesthetic organization. It is located in Newport, RI, on Bellevue Avenue at Vernon Court (1898), a Carrére and Hastings designed Beaux-Arts adaptation of an 18th century French chateau. It is the first national museum devoted exclusively to American illustration art. Illustration consists of original artwork created to be reproduced in books, magazines, newspapers, and advertisements. 'Golden Age' paintings by such luminaries as Norman Rockwell, Maxfield Parrish, NC Wyeth, JC Leyendecker, and 75 others are displayed in 'Gilded Age' architecture, creating a unique union of architecture and art - a national treasure. The Museum is administered by the American Civilization Foundation, a nonprofit organization with the goal to present the best possible venue for appreciating the greatest collection of illustration art - the most American of American art.


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