James L. and Lynne P. Doti Gallery of American Illustration

Norman Rockwell: Capturing the American Spirit

February 23, 2024 – September 7, 2024
Curated by Mary Platt from the Bank of America Collection and the Hilbert Collection

Beloved American illustrator Norman Rockwell (1984-1978) created compelling tales in pencil and paint that have found their way into the hearts – and the collective subconscious – of America. As Virginia M. Mecklenburg, senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, has said, Rockwell was a “mythmaker” and “a master storyteller who could distill a narrative into a single frame.”

While some prominent art critics turned up their noses at Rockwell during his lifetime, deriding his work as commercial and sentimental, recent articles and exhibitions have taken a much more admiring look at this iconic illustrator, praising him for his immense skill as a figurative painter and for his keen social observation. Many of his pieces have hit auction records, such as “Saying Grace” (1951), which sold for $46 million in 2013. His paintings are regularly snapped up at lofty prices by celebrity collectors like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who have both said Rockwell helped inspire their cinematic visions.

The Hilbert Collection has acquired a highly finished pencil study by Rockwell that was created in preparation for a 1946 Saturday Evening Post cover, and another, slightly later Rockwell drawing from the 1950s. This exhibition seeks to examine these drawings in the context of the work Rockwell was doing for the Saturday Evening Post at that time.