November 7, 2009 through May 31, 2010
Photography has been a benevolent tool for artists from Thomas Eakins and Edgar Degas to David Hockney. And to illustrators, always on the lookout for better ways to meet deadlines, the camera has long been a natural ally. But the thousands of photographs Norman Rockwell created as studies for his iconic images are a case apart. A natural storyteller, Rockwell envisioned his narrative scenarios down to the smallest detail. Yet at the easel he was an absolute literalist who rarely painted directly from his imagination.
Instead, he first brought his ideas to life in studio sessions, staging photographs that are fully realized works of art in their own right. Selecting props and locations, choosing and directing his models, he carefully orchestrated each element of his design for the camera before beginning to paint. Meticulously composed and richly detailed, Norman Rockwell’s study photographs mirror his masterworks in a tangible parallel universe. Photography opened a door to the keenly observed authenticity that defines Norman Rockwell’s art. And for us today it is a revelation to discover that so many of his most memorable characters were, in fact, real people.
Curator and author Ron Schick has undertaken a frame-by-frame study of the Norman Rockwell Museum’s newly digitized photography archive, made possible by a Save America’s Treasures project that has preserved a Rockwell archive of almost 20,000 negatives and made accessible the full range of the artist’s reference photography. Mr. Schick’s companion book Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera is available through Little, Brown and Company, and on sale in the Norman Rockwell Museum Store.