Art Critic, 1955

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Norman Rockwell once said he envied students who swooned when viewing the Mona Lisa because he never felt such passion. Rockwell may have seen himself as a more analytical artist, such as the one examining a seventeenth-century Dutch painting in his 1955 Art Critic. His original draft depicts a student studying painter Frans Hals' technique in a portrait of a Dutch housewife. In that study, a Dutch landscape on an adjacent wall places the student in a gallery of Dutch artwork. But a recurring Rockwell theme - of reality and fantasy exchanging placesm - seems to have taken over and the painting changed course.

With typical humor, Rockwell replaces the homely woman with one more alluring - based on a Peter Paul Rubens' portrait of his wife. The Dutch landscape became a group of Dutch cavaliers, brought to life by animated facial expressions. They are wary and concerned. Is the student getting too close to the painting? Is he being too personal with their gallery colleague? The scene's movement from reality to fantasy refutes the view that Rockwell's work is only photographic.

Odds & Ends: On the student's palette, three-dimensional dollops of paint remind us that we too are standing in a gallery looking at a painting.

Art Critic, Norman Rockwell, 1955. Oil on canvas, 39½" x 36¼" Cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post, April 16, 1955. From the permanent collection of Norman Rockwell Museum.

Art Critic (studies), Norman Rockwell, 1955.

Reference photos for Art Critic by Bill Scovill, 1954.