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Norman Rockwell: A Life    by Laura Claridge order for
Norman Rockwell
by Laura Claridge
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2001 (2001)

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* * *   Reviewed by David Pitt

I suppose the best biography of Norman Rockwell would be a big coffee-table book, full of his splendid Saturday Evening Post covers and Boys' Life illustrations and assorted paintings for Ladies' Home Journal, or American Magazine, or Boy Scout calendars, or - well, we could go on and on. This is not a lavishly illustrated book (although it does contain a nice sampling of Rockwell's work), but it is a solid, detailed, well written, and very interesting biography.

Rockwell's name may be famous, but his life certainly isn't: how many of us know, for example, that he did some advertising art for the Disney movie Old Yeller; that he taught at the Famous Artists' School; that he was a devoted fan of Charles Dickens; that the FBI had a rather interesting file on him (although any rumor that he was a Communist, or a sympathizer, seems to have been entirely ungrounded in fact).

The point here is: Rockwell's paintings may have reflected traditional family-values working-class America, but his life did not. Rockwell drank, he liked woman (apparently his 1994 autobiography was quite raunchy, in places), he was a poor student and a bit of a storyteller ("liar" seems too harsh a word); he was, you could make a strong case, an artistic rebel posing as a traditionalist. Don't let his sweet, charming, down-home simple paintings fool you: he was a complicated man, a true genius, and Claridge does an excellent job of bringing him off the canvas and into the world.

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