In My Adventures as an Illustrator, Norman Rockwell’s 1960 autobiography, the artist recalled memories from his youth that were seminal to his later work as an illustrator. Of particular importance were evening readings from the classic tales of Charles Dickens by his father Jarvis Waring Rockwell.
Throughout his life, Rockwell would cite the significance of those nightly readings and the influence of Dickens on his art. Not only did the author provide a lexicon of human experience and personality types for Rockwell to explore, he also inspired the artist’s portrayal of Dickensian characters throughout his career.
Rockwell created the above illustration for a Reader’s Digest Christmas Gift Subscription Card in 1937. Dickensian characters appear to be stepping out from their book’s pages, including a ghost (of Christmas past, perhaps?). The last four letters of the author’s last name peeked out from the pages of the painted book, and each of the male characters wears a sprig of holly in his hat. In the piece, Bob Cratchit and his son Tiny Tim are clearly identifiable. The ghost, on the other hand, is a little trickier to find.
Rockwell used a very subtle mix of grey oil paints to capture the spirit’s likeness peeking out of the corner of the painting. If you view the original painting (one of several rare Rockwell originals from private collections and currently on view in the exhibition, Norman Rockwell and The Ghost of Dickens), you just might miss it. The image seems to vanish depending on where you stand, but there it is on the top right-hand side… peering out from the pages of the book!
Norman Rockwell and The Ghost of Dickens is on view at Norman Rockwell Museum through February 25, 2012.