Norman Rockwell at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

The Dulwich Picture Gallery in South London is the oldest public art Gallery in England.  This small beautifully lit Gallery was designed by the Architect Sir John Soane in 1817 to house a collection of Old Master Paintings and to include a Mausoleum for its benefactors.   Recently it has embarked on a series of interesting exhibitions that have included Sickert’s paintings of Venice , Paul Nash ‘The Elements” and exhibitions of American Artists such as Winslow Homer, the Wyeth  Family and now more surprisingly that great American Illustrator Norman Rockwell.

The surprise is that artists who have been labelled as illustrators and often more dismissively as mere illustrators, are being exhibited in a Gallery alongside the likes of Rembrandt, Poussin and Velasquez .  Norman Rockwell (1894-1978) is America’s best-known illustrator. He painted American life in all its variety featuring mostly white middle class Americans as they imagined themselves to be. As a skilled technician, the Golden Age of Dutch painting where story telling was a staple ingredient influenced him. Like them he specialized in narrative genre scenes with which his magazine readers could identify and he reflected their life and times in a non-confrontational, gentle, often-humorous way.  It is this ability to inform through an imaginative response to a scenario that Rockwell excels. The original artwork commission would progress from initial pencil ideas to loosely painted sketches and then finally the larger scale oil on canvas painting was completed. This would then be photographed and reproduced through the lithographic process in various magazines and posters. At Dulwich there are 40 of these original oil paintings on display along with all 323 front covers for the Saturday Evening Post from 1916-1963.

There has always been a pecking order in art. At one time history painting was seen as the highest form of art, while still life painting was considered to be the lowest. Fashions however change and in today’s art world conceptual, performance and installation work now tend to dominate while traditional skills are no longer taught in the Art Schools.  This exhibition shows the work of illustrators besides those of the Old Masters and points to a growing realisation that quality resides in both high and low art forms. For an enjoyable and educational experience this is a show not to be missed.

James Cowan

Course Leader Fine Art.

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5 comments for “Norman Rockwell at the Dulwich Picture Gallery

  1. Myka
    16 February 2011 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks for sharing a historical post about Dulwich Picture Gallery. Although the concept of paintings differ from time to time, it still doesn’t change the fact that an artist can freely express his ideas through colors and hues.

    Fine Art Painter, painting website

  2. 17 February 2011 at 11:59 am

    I found this article very interesting. I didn’t know about the gallery in Dulwich but my brother lives not far from there so when I next go to visit, I will definitely take a trip to the gallery. Thank you

  3. Susan Clark
    17 February 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Thank you for giving us a bit about the gallery as well as the exhibition. I went along to Dulwich for the Wyeth exhibition and was thrilled by the varity of work from one family. Thank you for also defending illustrators as artist because regardless of the subject of the painting it is a painting it took skill and imagination to create it and if people enjoy looking at it then it IS art. I have read some scathing reviews about the Rockwell exhibition by critics who lack soul and imagination and I can’t wait to visit the gallery myself!

  4. tom smith
    17 February 2011 at 3:25 pm

    As an ex watercolourist i can apreciate art in all forms.
    But where modern art as we know it as sits beside the greats
    stumps me somewhat.art in an ilustrated form is mearly a brief
    discription from the ilustrators thoughts.Whereas the painters
    from the centuries show us what came from the heart.Because
    that is where there thoughts came from.

  5. 19 February 2011 at 6:09 am

    I love illustration regardles ,whatever the fashion may be and would love to see this exhibition, that is what I like about the OCA. the emphasis on drawing, alas I am in Cornwall,but I am looking forward to a Dafodill Exhibition this morning at Mawgan Church.

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