Norman Rockwell’s Golden Rule

Inspired by the new Google view of the civil rights era Norman Rockwell, I wanted to introduce you to Hobart and William Smith’s Norman Rockwell, Golden Rule, of 1961 in a similar vein.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978)
Golden Rule, 1961
Lithograph, 85 x 71 cm.
Collection of Hobart and William Smith Colleges

Born in New York City in 1894, Norman Rockwell always wanted to be an artist. At age 14, Rockwell enrolled in art classes at The New York School of Art (formerly The Chase School of Art). Two years later, in 1910, he left high school to study art at The National Academy of Design. He soon transferred to The Art Students League, where he studied with Thomas Fogarty and George Bridgman. Rockwell found success early. He painted his first commission of four Christmas cards before his sixteenth birthday. While still in his teens, he was hired as art director of Boys’ Life, the official publication of the Boy Scouts of America, and began a successful freelance career illustrating a variety of young people’s publications. At age 21, Rockwell’s family moved to New Rochelle, New York, a community whose residents included such famous illustrators as J.C. and Frank Leyendecker and Howard Chandler Christy. There, Rockwell set up a studio with the cartoonist Clyde Forsythe and produced work for such magazines as Life, Literary Digest, and Country Gentleman. In 1916, the 22-year-old Rockwell painted his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post, the magazine considered by Rockwell to be the “greatest show window in America.” Over the next 47 years, another 321 Rockwell covers would appear on the cover of the Post. The 1930s and 1940s are generally considered to be the most fruitful decades of Rockwell’s career. In 1930 he married Mary Barstow, a schoolteacher, and the couple had three sons, Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter. The family moved to Arlington, Vermont, in 1939, and Rockwell’s work began to reflect small-town American life. In 1943, inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s address to Congress, Rockwell painted the Four Freedoms paintings. They were reproduced in four consecutive issues of The Saturday Evening Post with essays by contemporary writers. 1943 also brought Rockwell an enormous loss. A fire destroyed his Arlington studio as well as numerous paintings and his collection of historical costumes and props. In 1953, the Rockwell family moved from Arlington, Vermont, to Stockbridge, Massachusetts. In 1963, he ended his 47-year association with The Saturday Evening Post and began to work for Look magazine. During his 10-year association with Look, Rockwell painted pictures illustrating some of his deepest concerns and interests, including civil rights, America’s war on poverty, and the exploration of space. In 1973, Rockwell established a trust to preserve his artistic legacy by placing his works in the custodianship of the Old Corner House Stockbridge Historical Society, later to become Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge. The trust now forms the core of the Museum’s permanent collections. In 1976, in failing health, Rockwell became concerned about the future of his studio. He arranged to have his studio and its contents added to the trust. In 1977, Rockwell received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal.

He wanted to show that “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” was something on which people of most religions could agree, regardless of their creed or belief. In the picture we see people of many nationalities. It wasn’t until 1959 that Norman Rockwell conceived the idea of a Golden Rule painting. He originally wanted to paint it as a ten foot mural for the United Nations. The United Nations was not interested. The idea of the Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell along with his preliminary sketches languished in his storeroom for more than a year. When Norman Rockwell did return to his earlier idea, he had decided to use illustrations of people from all over the world. He would also depict them in attitudes of worship to make up for the deficiency’s he felt were present in his Worship painting from the 1940s.

For further reading:
Rivoli, Kevin. In search of Norman Rockwell’s America / New York : Howard Books,
c2008. QUARTO TR820 .R58 2008

Claridge, Laura P. Norman Rockwell : a life / New York : Random House, c2001. ND237.R68 C59 2001

Rockwell, Norman, Norman Rockwell, a sixty year retrospective : catalogue of an exhibition / New York : H.N. Abrams : distributed by New American Library, c1972. QUARTO ND237.R68 B4 1972

Guptill, Arthur Leighton, Norman Rockwell, illustrator / New York : Watson-Guptill Publications, [1971] QUARTO ND237.R68 G8 1971a

Guptill, Arthur Leighton, Norman Rockwell, illustrator. New York, Watson-Guptill Publications [1970] QUARTO ND237.R68 G8 1970

Finch, Christopher. Norman Rockwell’s America / New York : H. N. Abrams, [1975] QUARTO ND237.R68 F5