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The Connoisseur

October 26, 2015






In 1961, judges for the Coopertown Art Association in New York awarded first prize to an abstract painting signed by an unknown Italian artist. That same painting, this time signed by the artist “Percival,” later won honorable mention at a Berkshire Museum exhibition. Both groups of judges must have been shocked to learn the painting they admired and lavished with praise was in fact painted by someone they reviled—popular illustrator Norman Rockwell.





Norman Rockwell is most famous for illustrations featured on Saturday Evening Post covers. When I was taking art classes, a stinging insult was having your work described as Rockwellesque, slavishly realistic and dripping with sentiment.


Rockwell never considered himself a serious painter and preferred being called an illustrator. His work has long been dismissed by art critics as kitsch Americana, even though his paintings now appear in numerous museums, with one work recently fetching 45 million dollars at auction.


In 1961, Rockwell was working on a Post cover called The Connoisseur. He was actually an admirer of modern art and fascinated with the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock, who in the fifties was making a big splash on the art scene. This project afforded Rockwell an opportunity to show his feelings about modern art, and he did so with wit and style.





Rockwell, famous for depictions of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, The Four Freedoms and boy scout calendars, transformed his workspace into an abstract expressionist studio and began experimenting with non representational art. He created several abstract paintings, using one as the reference for the painting in his cover illustration.


Impeccably dressed with hat and gloves, the well-heeled gentleman in The Connoisseur is undoubtedly a stand-in for Rockwell himself. Unable to see his expression, we can assume the connoisseur is smiling appreciatively at the painting, perhaps considering how it might look in his collection. Many Post subscribers must have thought this a witty putdown of modern art, whereas it was actually an act of appreciation.





The illustration was published by The Post on January 13th, 1962, after Rockwell received prizes for his abstract art. I can only wonder what those judges thought when The Saturday Evening Post landed in their mailboxes, with The Connoisseur on the cover.




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Now that's irony. Shows what biases occur in the world.
By: Alex J. Cavanaugh on October 26, 2015
Love it, on so many levels!
By: John on October 26, 2015
I have always been a HUGE fan of Rockwell because of the warmth and emotion in his paintings that cannot help but touch your heart. I "like" certain modern art...but cannot figure out how anyone can "study" it.
By: Tabor on October 26, 2015
That is a wonderful story and I thank you for sharing it.
By: The Broad on October 26, 2015
When I was a kid my folks subscribed to the Saturday Evening Post and I adored Rockwell's illustrations. Quite frankly I do not understand anyone not enjoying his art....he always made us smile. I'll take him over Jack the Dripper any day.
By: Kathe W. on October 26, 2015
I think Rockwell's time has probably come at last. He was an astonishingly good draughstmanr - and I am not sure I know what is the difference between illustration and art. Nobdoy can say that we don't think about what Rockwell produced. I went to a show of his work in London and left with a new appreciation of him. Sure, it would have been good if he had been able to harness his art to a social purpose (as I think he wanted to do) And I wonder what he felt when he got the prize? Did he wonder if he could have made it as an abstract artist after all?
By: Jenny Woolf on October 26, 2015
I think Rockwell is "comfortable" art for white people. But for me, I think I prefer more diversity. Art needs to create emotion for me and most abstract art doesn't do that.
By: Michael Offutt on October 26, 2015
I don't know anything about art, I only know what I like. I like Rockwell, I like drippy art, I like folk art - I respond more to the colours and textures and human values I see in the paintings than what is technically "good" (who decides that, anyway, and why did they get to be in charge?) ... Intriguing story, CC!
By: jenny_o on October 26, 2015
Critics in so many areas are often pompous failures looking for attention. If the masses loved Rockwell's work than it is up to the pompous critics to set us all straight. I love how Rockwell used his art to poke them without their knowing. Once again another great lesson in the arts by CC. Thanks. If you publish a book on art appreciation, I will most certainly purchase a copy.
By: cranky on October 26, 2015
Once again I learn something new &, like Cranky, if you publish a book on art appreciation, I will also purchase a copy!!
By: fishducky on October 26, 2015
Rockwell painted America. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on October 26, 2015
That's an interesting story. I had no idea that Rockwell painted abstracts!
By: Marcia @ Menopausal Mother on October 26, 2015
that's awesome.
By: TexWisGirl on October 26, 2015
I love this. I have always loved Rockwell. He brought tenderness and humour into his work. How could that be anything but good for the soul? Fun story behind this art. You could teach art history and really make it stick.. you always have a wonderful perspective.
By: Hilary on October 26, 2015
So when there are subjective topics, there can be major differences and they are backed up by good reason. sometimes the snobs pay a price.
By: red on October 26, 2015
I can't do what Rockwell did, and I can't do what modern, abstract artists do, so I just admire them all.
By: Pixel Peeper on October 26, 2015
We also got The Saturday Evening Post. As a kid, I looked forward to seeing each new cover. I know nothing about art except what I read here. This reminds me that I also like to read Stephen King, who is not exactly regarded as an author of great literature. Still, the masses enjoy him.
By: Val on October 26, 2015
Agreeing with Pixel. Since i can't do it, i admire it a great deal. And there's plenty of room in this world for all types of art and illusttrations.
By: messymimi on October 26, 2015
Some may have considered him a lightweight, but he had a knack for capturing the spirit of an era.I admire him.
By: Rick on October 26, 2015
These critics are the same who have praised works of art only to find out it was done by an elephant. These same critics are very negative with Robert Bateman whom I find amazing. I was never a true lover of Rockwell but his work should be appreciated because he could get so much emotions through with his paint strokes. When you look at the grey suit the man is wearing, it almost looks like a picture. These so-called art critics are often more into wearing black and throwing the off white scarf around their neck. They only look at abstract art and no longer appreciate the art which is more realistic
By: Birgit on October 26, 2015
Illustrator or artist, Rockwell gave face and created a mood for America at that time. His images include iconic "moments" of Americana. He was indeed a skilled man. I had the opportunity to see his Saturday Evening Post work when the SerVaas Family Enterprises purchased the Saturday Evening Post and Curtis Publishing. Whether you call him an artist or an illustrator, his talent had impact.
By: Tom Cochrun on October 26, 2015
Methinks an artist would be honored to have his efforts be described as Rockwellesque. On the hand, I can't believe anyone actually likes a Jackson Pollock. Maybe fascinated by, but never truly liked. So, so much for my opinion--huh?
By: Jerry E. Beuterbaugh on October 26, 2015
That's funny. Rockwell was deserving. I have a book with some of his works, but I didn't know he was so versatile.
By: Robyn Engel on October 27, 2015
that's a fun story.
By: Ellen Abbott on October 27, 2015
Not really an abstract art kinda guy. Now, "Dogs Playing Poker." THAT I like!
By: Al Penwasser on October 27, 2015
For as long as I can remember, I've always enjoyed Rockwell's more popular work. I'm among the other's who admire art for art's sake. I really don't make any effort to know the artist.
By: Daniel LaFrance on October 28, 2015
What a great story!
By: The Bug on October 28, 2015

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