Artist’s Work in the Collection
Though better known for his work during World War II, as a young man Norman Rockwell contributed to the artistic canon of the Great War. These early works were emblematic of the deep patriotism that would characterize Rockwell through his entire career.
Rockwell was born on February 3, 1894 in New York City. Showing artistic talent at a young age, he was transferred from high school to the Chase Art School, now called Parsons the New School of Design, in New York City at the age of 14. He would later study at the National Academy of Design and the Art Students League.
Spurred on by patriotism, Rockwell attempted to join the Navy in July 1918, however the twenty-four-year old was seventeen pounds under naval standards. With the military doctor’s approval and encouragement, Rockwell stuffed himself with bananas, doughnuts, and water in order to meet the minimum weight requirement. His naval duties proved little different from his civilian work, however; he was assigned to work for the internal publication of a naval base in Charlestown, South Carolina.
Rockwell’s largest contributions to the war effort ended up being artistic rather than martial. On August 17, 1918, Rockwell’s “Boy Showing off Badges” appeared on the cover of The Literary Digest. This illustration shows a young boy showing the badges he earned doing his part to help the war effort. Rockwell’s “Boy Showing off Badges” was used in a poster the same year for the Women’s Liberty Loan, with the title “And Now the Fighting Fourth.” It was the only poster Rockwell did during the Great War.
Rockwell also painted two other covers for The Literary Digest in 1918, both of which were related to the Great War. The other two were “Keep ‘Em Smiling” appearing on the November 9th issue and “In Redeemed Belgium” on the December 14th issue. Earlier that year, on March 30, Rockwell’s “Easter” appeared on the cover of Leslie’s, an image also relating to the war.
Rockwell’s final cover for the Post was published in 1963, making a total of 322 original covers in his lifetime. For the next ten years, Rockwell painted for Look Magazine, where his work reflected his interests in civil rights, poverty, and space exploration. In 1977, Rockwell received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States of America’s highest civilian honor, for “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.” Rockwell died November 8, 1978 of emphysema at the age of 84 in Stockbridge, MA— now the location of The Norman Rockwell Museum.
See our full biography of Norman Rockwell in the “Articles” section.
Poster & Prints