04 November 2010


Norman Rockwell Painting Smackdown!

There's only one exclamation point this time because I suspect I'm the only one with a say in this who gets worked up into raptures over a Norman Rockwell print. But really, I couldn't bluff my way through a paint-by-numbers book, so this isn't the blog to read if you like art.

As before, the first round in this smackdown is decided by your votes. You'll have until next Thursday to pick which Rockwell paintings make it to Round 2. Be heard in the combox!

And since there were so many more pairs I wanted to include but had to cut, expect some mini face-offs as we go along! =)

Round 1
The "No Swimming" Sixteen

Boy Scouts vs. No Swimming

Norman Rockwell and the Boy Scouts of America: a match made in pop art heaven--if only because he was a man who clearly remembered what it was like to be a boy. The first painting appeared in the Boy Scout Handbook and so must be forgiven for looking like bare-faced propaganda. (Rockwell was uncannily good at propaganda.) You'll find more of a Tom Sawyer-ish air in the second painting of misbehaving boys, who clearly have a long way to go before they have a shot at Eagle Scout status.

Girl at Mirror vs. Girl with Black Eye

I think Rockwell does a pretty good job with children in general, but I'm not always sold on his girls. There are times when he seems to view them with the tolerant eye of a highly amused, but slightly befuddled uncle--the sort who can't think of anything else to get his nieces on their birthdays but dolls. Here I present one unusually meditative painting that has the look of a classic portrait (doll and all) and a funnier image in which the girl's delighted face tells the entire story.

The Roadblock vs. Waiting for the Vet

And then there were the dogs! Rockwell was definitely a dog person: for every doll he sneaked into a girl painting, there is a dog for a boy painting. Sometimes he just put dogs in there for the heck of it, which you must agree was wonderful of him. Above we have a little dog causing a big problem--one of Rockwell's busier canvases, depicting a mock-epic as adorable as it is hilarious--and a whole waiting room of pets and their owners, none as sweetly pathetic as one boy and his beloved pup.

The Dugout vs. The Three Umpires

Now I'm going to go out on a limb and say that baseball was obviously Rockwell's favourite sport. (Well, even if it wasn't, he certainly did it justice, and then some.) I chose the first painting because it tells us everything we need to know about the game without showing us any of the action on the field--reminding us that the action off the field is as essential a part of the baseball experience. And the second painting reminds me of the three Fates in Greek mythology, and that has to be a good thing.

Going and Coming vs. Gossip

One thing I really love about Rockwell's paintings is the way each one tells a story. (Unless, that is, we're talking about the unfortunate boy scout paintings.) We might have entered in medias res, but we all know the beginning and can guess the particulars of the certain happy ending. These two paintings put a little more effort in where plot is concerned--which you don't see very often in this medium. The first painting is as light-hearted as a "Spot the Differences" challenge; the second, a fantastic illustration of several morals, most notably "What goes around, comes around."

The Art Critic vs. Triple Self-Portrait

So many artists who get started on the subject of art come across as pretentious gits, but Rockwell seems to have a sense of humour. The optical illusions in the first painting are hilarious (And who is to say that paintings don't look askance at critics?), while the quirky self-image he reveals in the second painting makes it one of the most original of its kind. I think Rockwell knew he would never be one of the great Masters, but that it wasn't the end of the world.

Family Tree vs. Freedom from Want

Given that Rockwell's paintings are such a rich part of what we call "Americana," I had trouble picking two to represent his whole wheat brand of patriotism. I like the family tree because it is both a funny image and a decent history lesson. (If you look closely, you'll see the father's face show up again and again--once as a woman! LOL!) And then there's the famous Thanksgiving dinner, which is probably his most iconic painting, and the one most frequently put to the "Weird Al" test of art: Parody is the sincerest form of flattery.

Moving Day vs. The Problem We All Live With

For all his bright-eyed optimism, Rockwell also managed two very clear-eyed editorials about one problem that American society still knows all too well. The first painting combines his trademark slice-of-life storytelling with some very immediate dilemma ethics. The second is a powerful commentary on an event that made the national news and found itself a place in the national history.

Image Sources: a) Boy Scouts, b) No Swimming, c) Girl at Mirror, d) Girl with Black Eye, e) The Roadblock, f) Waiting for the Vet, g) The Dugout, h) The Three Umpires, i) Going and Coming, j) Gossip, k) The Art Critic, l) Triple Self-Portrait, m) Family Tree, n) Thanksgiving, o) Moving Day, p) The Problem We All Live With


antiaphrodite said...

No Swimming (Tom Sawyer-ish!! And that little boy with that surprised-looking face! If he told me he didn't see the sign I'm pretty sure I'd believe him X-D )

Girl At Mirror (The tilte that came to my head was 'Young Orual')

The Roadblock (Pulutaaaaan!!! X-D )

The Three Umpires ('Is that rain?!')

Gossip (So accurate!)

Triple Self-Potrait (Meta?! :-D )

Freedom From Want. (I'm hungry.)

The last one's tough--but I'm going with Moving Day.

Enbrethiliel said...


None of that pulutan on my watch!!! All doggies must be spared! (I couldn't even bring myself to finish Cujo last month!)

Thanks so much for voting. =D

antiaphrodite said...


You're welcome :-)

antiaphrodite said...

And I did NOT just make another double post.

Lesa said...

I love Norman Rockwell's art!! What a great idea for a faceoff but three are too tough for me to decide--- I will get back to you later.

Enbrethiliel said...


Antiaphrodite: That's perfectly right. You didn't. ;-)

Lesa: I'm already looking forward to your ballot! =D

antiaphrodite said...

Well, of course I didn't What I said!! :-D

antiaphrodite said...

And I think I may have discovered the quantum twitch that causes the phenomenon!!

Birdie said...

No Swimming--mischief is always more fun than obeying the rules

Girl with the black eye--there are too many idealized and "pretty" girls/women in art

Waiting for the vet--it's less cartoonish than Roadblock and hence it's more the style I associate with Rockwell

The Three Umpires--based entirely on the criterion of colour harmony. LOL

Going and Coming--for the poor down-trodden father and the sleepy kid in the back

Triple Self-Portrait--because it was one of my grandfather's favorite paintings and it always reminds me of him.

Family tree--it's not as visually appealing as Freedom from Want but it tells a humourous story. I also like that the end product is a ginger kid. LOL

The Problem We All Live With--because I just can't believe that the kids in Moving Day would check each other out at that close a range.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for voting, Birdie!

On Roadblock being "cartoonish": I once told a Japanese friend that Rockwell was my favourite artist and showed her some prints of his paintings. I can't remember which of them those were, but her less-than-impressed reaction was, "They look like cartoons!" =P

And when I was putting this post together, I started wondering about the little boy in Family Tree, too. The hair is a really nice touch! =D

FrB said...

No Swimming (No contest... Can't beat the action and the misbehaviour)
Girl at Mirror (A slightly dark view of the female psyche...)
Waiting for the Vet (Not really a fan of either of these paintings)
The Dugout (This was a tough decision... The Umpires has a certain weight and dignity, but The Dugout captures the whole spirit of the game)
Gossip (Just a relly fun painting)
Triple Self-Portrait (No contest - again, Rockwell's sense of humour wins)
Freedom from Want (This picture makes me hungry)
Moving Day (Again, not a fan of either of those two paintings, but Moving Day shades it)

Lesa said...

As a kid I was fascinated by Rockwell calendars-- the more you look the more you see/feel-- which is the whole point of art, isn't it.

I looked for a news article from a few months ago that explained Rockwell is much greater than the artsy-fartsies give him credit for-- couldn't find it but here is another shorter piece that you might enjoy. It shows a comparison of the original photo and finished painting of a few of his works.


I've pondered again-- taking this way too seriously, of course, but it is very difficult to choose between a few-- almost as impossible as a parent picking a favorite child.

No Swimming

Dang it-- both of these speak to my female psyche (not dark?!)-- I am a girly tomboy after all. Ok-- Black eye wins but barely. (And, FrB, what is slightly dark about a little girl daydreaming about becoming a beautiful young woman-- can't you just see her running off to get into her mother's make-up and closet for a fabulous dress up session)

Waiting for the Vet-- thought I was voting for the other but changed my mind-- sad little boys tug at my heartstrings.


Gossip-- too funny-- I work in a town exactly like that.

Triple self portrait-- love the other too reminds me of the HP world.

Family tree

The problem we all live with

CMinor said...

My picks:
1. Boy Scouts. Even if it was propaganda. Because I'm a sucker for earnest-looking fellows in uniform.

2. A toughie, since I like both. But I'm going with Girl at Mirror. The dark colors give it a sort of Old Master feel, and besides, I've read that Rockwell couldn't find a girl with a black eye and had to use a boy as a model instead. (Young Orual? Please! She's too pretty!)

3. Waiting for the Vet. It's quintessential Rockwell. I'm guessing Roadblock is an early work? It looks it.

4. The Dugout, if only for the looks on those faces! E, remember the time period! America's game had considerably less competition for public attention from other sports then. It seems to me he did a few football-themed works, though.

5. Gossip. It's a classic that's all but a cultural meme. I've encountered a number of mimics over the years--once my local phone company printed a mock-up featuring talking heads using assorted styles of phones on the cover of its directory.

6. Triple Self-Portrait. Again, quintessential Rockwell. And a cool visual trick, too.

7. Family Tree. More plausible than one might think in these United States! Reminds me a bit of Robert Lawson's They Were Strong and Good.

8. The Problem We All Live With, definitely. Inspired by the Ruby Bridges case. The little girl is a picture of solitude, even as she is surrounded by her guard. Yet she steps seriously and with purpose. Rockwell didn't give faces to the agents; the story here is definitely all about her.

Enbrethiliel said...


FrB: Why do I suddenly believe your younger, more carefree self could have posed for the No Swimming painting, Father? =P

Lesa: Believe me, voting for your favourite of two paintings is not as hard as settling on only sixteen! My own favourite didn't make it!!! =(

I almost caved in and made this my first thirty-two contender smackdown. And I'm still wondering if I should have done that . . . =S Even three extra mini face-offs as we go through the rest of the month won't really cover what I love about Rockwell.

Thanks for the link to the article and for your votes! =) I'll have to read the article later, though, and get back to you.

Cminor: I toss the word "propaganda" around too casually these days. But there are times when I really do like the stuff--these boy scouts being the perfect example. =) There were other boy scout paintings which touched a different chord for me (sort of like "Mother and Child"--except they were "Big Brother and Little Brother"), but they didn't really make sense next to No Swimming.

I've seen some other Rockwell paintings of boys enjoying sports. (If I hadn't been so set on No Swimming, one of them would have been set against the boy scouts painting.) As for the time period . . . I remember someone saying that baseball's popularity marked America's Grecian period and that football's popularity marks America's Roman period. What do you think?

And I hadn't known Gossip was so much of a meme! Thanks for telling me. I'll look up the parodies! =)

Paul Stilwell said...

>No Swimming

>Girl with Black Eye

>The Roadblock

>The Three Umpires

>Going and Coming

>The Art Critic

>Family Tree

>Moving Day

Salome Ellen said...

1. Boy Scouts (I'm with CMinor on this one.)
2. Girl at Mirror (The doll is discarded; such a poignant stage of life.)
3. Waiting for the Vet (maybe because I don't identify with cities??)
4. The Three Umpires (just because they don't get equal time)
5. Gossip (as a grim reminder)
6. Triple Self-Portrait (one of my favorite Rockwells)
7. Freedom from Want (by the tiniest of hairs.)
8. The Problem We All Live With (because it reminds me how far we've come. My children wouldn't "get" Moving Day, for which I'm grateful.)

antiaphrodite said...

She's too pretty!

It the sentiment, of course, that made me think of it. (Then again, is she too pretty?)

Enbrethiliel said...


Stilwell and Ellen:

With one exception, your ballots are totally opposed! How interesting is that? =D

And Ellen, I'm glad to hear that everyone has come a long way since the last two paintings were finished. =)

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Am I the only one who can't see the images??? :( I love Norman Rockwell!!

Is there a link I'm not seeing I'm supposed to click on to go to the images?? Waaaaaa! I can't seee!!!!

CMinor said...

Well, I'd say yes in a cultural sort of way, but it would be no compliment as I'm really not a football fan. My hub might have another opinion.

Well, Orual's distinguishing feature, especially when young,was her homeliness. "Young Lady With a Shiner" would be more in that vein, though that girl is really kinda cute except for the bruising: Orual did shape up to be a good fighter!

I'm with you on Moving Day. It actually took me a minute (and having The Problem We All Live With next to it) to recognize the political dimension.

Enbrethiliel said...


Carol: Maybe Photobucket was down for a few minutes, when you were visiting? Just in case there was another problem, I've already sent you an e-mail. I hope you can see the images now. =)

Cminor: I don't watch sport very often myself, so I'm going by "feel" here--but I do like that saying. =)

antiaphrodite said...

Well, Orual's distinguishing feature, especially when young,was her homeliness.

And won't the girl at the mirror fit the description? For many people, at least? Her expression, especially, doesn't look very princess-y.

FrB said...

Lesa, it seems to me that the picture shows either the eternal female dissatisfaction with their appearance or the seeds of vanity. The discarded doll adds to the tinge of darkness.

Enbrethiliel, you don't know the young me very well. Mischief and illicit swimming weren't really part of my childhood. I was depressingly square and well-behaved.

Kalim Kassam said...

* Boy Scouts (the toughest choice)

* Girl at Mirror

* Waiting for the Vet

* The Three Umpires (this was tough too, probably because I don't grok baseball. I agree with Birdie on colour harmony, I picked it because of composition)

* Going and Coming

* Triple Self-Portrait

* Family Tree

* Moving Day

Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Oh, very tough! Here are my picks:

1. No Swimming
2. Girl at the Mirror
3. The Roadblock
4. Three Umpires
5. Going and Coming
6. Triple Self Portrait
7. Freedom from Want
8. The Problem we all Live With

Some of these were really hard to decide on!

Lesa said...

FrB-- Thanks for explaining what you meant-- interesting to ponder but I still can't see darkness (which makes me think of bad/evil) in a normal stage of childhood.

Lesa said...

Cminor's comment about the black eye girl maybe being modeled by a boy made me very curious. Seems like the girl Mary Whalen modeled for several paintings including the mirror and the black eye-- isn't that interesting?!

I found a photo of a senior age Mary Whalen in this article from NPR-- she does resemble the black eye girl. See what you think?


Paul Stilwell said...

I'm really interested in seeing which image ends up coming out of the Smackdown.

Paul Stilwell said...

This may prove more popular than your 'Weird Al' Smackdown.

Enbrethiliel said...


Kalim: Thanks for voting! Welcome to Shredded Cheddar. =)

Carol: I'm glad to see you again! And believe me, I know it's tough! ;-)

The reason I opened this feature to voting was so that I could pick sixteen contenders (which is tough enough!) and not have to decide amongst them.

Lesa: That's a great link! Thanks. =D

As for whether the model for Girl with Black Eye was originally male or female . . . Well, I find both stories perfectly plausible! I'm sure I'll hear the true one sooner or later. =)

Stilwell: So am I! When I started planning this, there was a painting I was sure would make it to the Top Two . . . and lo and behold, it's losing! =P

And if you had told me this would be more popular than the "Weird Al" smackdown, I wouldn't have believed you! (On the other hand, nothing is officially popular on Shredded Cheddar until Sir Christopher weighs in . . . I wonder where he is?)

Salome Ellen said...

I was intrigued with the idea of Girl at Mirror showing vanity. I've always seen it as "WHo will I be when I'm grown?" That is, she knows shes not (quite) the child she sees anymore -- hence the discarded doll -- but she's trying to see who she IS now (or will be...)

Enbrethiliel said...


Heh-heh. FrB is in for it now. =P

(Not to throw him under the bus or anything, as we were friends before I had to call him "Father," but I'm with Lesa and Ellen. Girl at Mirror could well be dark if we remember what physical beauty meant to Snow White's stepmother. Mirrors aren't always benign, etc. But I don't see that in this case. It's a very sweet, tender image.)

CMinor said...

I've got to admit there's an uncanny resemblance there. I read the story about the boy model years ago in a collection of prints and can't find any corroboration on the nets, so it could be nonsense. Or maybe the boy was just the model for the shiner, and young Miss Whalen for the young lady! (BTW while looking for info I came across another painting--this one of a young couple visiting a marriage counselor--in which the husband sports a shiner every bit as colorful as this one! Rockwell seems to have made bruise coloration a point of study!)

Can we agree to disagree on that point? :-)

Though I haven't attempted to verify it, the saying sounds to me like something political analyst and occasional baseball writer George Will might have said.

The Western Confucian said...

No Swimming
Girl At Mirror
The Roadblock
The Three Umpires
Going and Coming
Triple Self-Potrait
Freedom From Want

Enbrethiliel said...


It's lovely to see you again, Joshua! =) Thanks for voting. But did you leave out the last pair on purpose?

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

My picks:
No Swimming (They look like they're in so much trouble!)

Girl at Mirror (I actually want to know her story.)

Waiting for the Vet. (I feel for the boy who is all alone in a crowded room.)

The Three Umpires (So what's a little rain, eh?)

Going and Coming (All the faces in Gossip freak me out.)

The Art Critic (The lady in the picture seems to be amused by the fellow.)

Freedom from Want (Feels like home.)

The Problem We All Live With (It has a message.)

joan said...

hi here are my choices
1 no swimming
2 girl with black eye
3 waiting for the vet
4 the dugout
5 going and coming
6 triple self portrait
7 family tree
8 moving day

great responses

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Irena and Joan! =)

To everyone: I e-mailed Joshua about Moving Day vs. The Problem We All Live With, and he picked Moving Day.

Belfry Bat said...

No Swimming! (I can't abide Scouts propaganda... I was never a scout. All the scouts at my primary school were mean to me)
Girl at mirror (it's just too sweet!)
Waiting for the Vet
The Three Umpires (so much more interesting!)
Going and Coming
Triple Self-portrait (Because I'm a mathematician; and it's nifty)
Freedom from Want (look at that guy in the corner looking at you!)
and The Problem We All Live With.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Bat! =) And it's now Wednesday night where I am, so I'm closing this poll.