The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Norman Rockwell, American Romantic

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Christopher Benfey reviews American Mirror, Deborah Solomon’s recently published biography of artist Norman Rockwell, for the New York Review of Books:

Solomon spends more time than Rockwell did worrying about his status in comparison with what she calls the “Abstract Expressionist ilk,” who “glamorized direct and unmediated gestures” and dominated highbrow taste during the 1950s. Rockwell, who was remarkably uncompetitive and nonterritorial, said, disarmingly, “If I were young, I would paint that way myself.” The Connoisseur of 1962, a painting now in the collection of Steven Spielberg that Solomon considers a “masterpiece,” depicts a balding man seen from behind, in a gray suit with hat and umbrella in hand, contemplating what seems to be a Pollock painting. The floor, bluish-gray and white squares and triangles, constitutes a contrapuntal abstraction. Rockwell had fun making his own drip painting, canvas on the floor, and had a photographer record the event just as Hans Namuth, in 1950, had famously documented Pollock wielding a can of paint over the canvas. It’s charming to learn that Willem de Kooning, a longtime admirer of Rockwell, claimed to think that Rockwell’s Pollock was better than the real thing. “Square inch by square inch,” he said, “it’s better than Jackson!”

(American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell is published by Farrah, Straus & Giroux, and is distributed in Canada by my employer Raincoast Books)

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