28 November 2010


Smackdown Controversy!

Let's try this little face-off, shall we?

Forgotten Facts about George Washington by Norman Rockwell
Persuasion by Leonard Campbell Taylor

Yes, Taylor's painting came first. =P
But I like Rockwell's "cover version," too . . .

When I asked the reader who tipped me off whether his intention was to shake things up with George's fervent fans, he replied:

"Nah, I just thought I'd show that even 'illustrators' know where to look to learn how to paint. His composition is pretty striking in its similarity though, right down to the table he hid with George's cape. Illustrators get a bad rap by the the snobs."

Since he e-mailed me instead of leaving this in the combox, I guess he wants to remain anonymous . . . but of course he's welcome to out himself whenever he pleases.

Anyway, what do you think?

I like Taylor's original painting very much; it's soft, romantic and (obviously) everything Rockwell's "cover" wanted to be. But it's also a lot more abstract. And I can't help comparing it to what Jane Austen did with the idea of "Persuasion"!

And I suppose I'd be more emotionally involved with Campbell's two young lovers if I hadn't seen the other painting first--because putting George Washington in it was freaking GENIUS. We know George--and on a first-name basis, too, it seems (LOL!). And it drives home the point that we don't really know this other fellow.

As for the young woman there with George . . . I thought she was Martha Dandridge, who later became his wife; but CMinor said it was likely Sally Cary, whom he loved when he was younger. History has so many stories, aye? Rockwell the Storyteller, who turns everyone into a character, has a great approach.

Image Sources: a) Forgotten Facts about George Washington by Norman Rockwell, b) Persuasion by Leonard Campbell Taylor


Lindsay said...

Wow. I can't believe how similar they are!

I find Taylor's to be far more demure and innocent, right down to the body language and clothing. Look at how plain and unpretentious her dress is! And her tiny little feet with plain shoes. The man behind her sweetly. The tone and the softened colours used. The softened look would normally strike me as more somber and/or sensual, but when placed in this painting strike me more as innocent. It seems (to me, at any rate) to be budding young love. Virginal love.

Rockwell's, in comparison, has a more seductive quality, I think. George's cape on the table, showing a hasty approach to the young woman. The young woman wearing a far more elegant and "grown up"-looking dress. It seems coquettish next to Taylor's.

That's just how they appear to me when placed aside each other. I'm sure my evaluation would differ if I had viewed them separately and without knowledge of the other.

CMinor said...

Well, as one of my favorite lit profs used to say,

"Bad writers imitate. Good writers steal."

I think the same can be said of artists. Also, I'm not sure how deeply embedded in the cultural consciousness Persuasion was at the time--is it possible Rockwell painted George with a wink and nudge to viewers already familiar with the older work? As a modern artist might with American Gothic or a Rockwell.

Salome Ellen said...

Well, It's very clear that Rockwell changed the historical era. Both pictures show stylish young women of their time. The table, the candelabra, even the wall are period-specific. That said, I do think it was probably a "tribute" picture of the sort CMinor mentions. And I like it better..

pennyyak said...

I like both of them. I think they both lend something different to the "feel" of the picture.

These have been the most unusual articles on GW I have EVER read. Congratulations!

EegahInc said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb here and suggest both pictures are rather naughty. Even though he was working in the 1900s, Taylor's picture seems to me to evoke a toned down version of the mid 1800s Pre-Raphaelite stuff (think The Awakening Conscience). As such, those look like lilies (symbolizing purity, chastity, and innocence) on the table, but the man has the woman turned from them, possibly leading her away. Just what is he trying to PERSUADE her to do? And as for Rockwell's George... well, there's that raised sword isn't there?

As for the similarities, it's probably just another case of Rockwell pointing out that, "Hey, I may be just an illustrator, but I can do all that art stuff too."

I'm still gonna stick with George.

Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

I really like both images. Now that I've seen both, however, I have to say that I prefer the woman in Taylor's painting and the man - George - in Rockwell's. Why? They both seem to show more emotion than their respectable partners. The woman in Taylor's painting seems to be experiencing emotions with greater power than the woman in Rockwell's, and the same goes for George in comparison to the other man.

I agree with you. Putting George Washington in the illustration depicting an intimate, romantic moment really was genial on Rockwell's part. A bit bold, perhaps, yet in a good way.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks for your thoughts, everyone!

Lindsay: Have you read Eegahinc's comment on the hidden naughtiness of both paintings yet? ;-) I agree that the girl in Persuasion is more demure and innocent, maybe even reluctant to give in . . . which is why her lover somehow seems more predatory than George. (Or am I just saying that because I "know" George?)

We can't help playing them off each other after seeing them together like this, can we? =P Which painting do you suppose is luckier for it: the one we saw first or the one we saw second?

Cminor: I wish I had remembered that. Yes, this is a very successful "steal" by Rockwell. I wish I knew how familiar Persuasion was at the time, too.

Ellen: Yay for Rockwell! =D

Penny: This has been the most unusual way of learning about George that I could have ever come up with. He actually first popped up several months earlier, when two very different YA novels I was reading with my brothers mentioned Valley Forge. If he keeps showing up on this blog, I'll have to give him his own tab!

Eegahinc: Now that you mention it, there is a darker edge to Taylor's painting. As I've told Lindsay, I don't really like the man in it.

And you're not the first one to notice the raised sword and the cape in the Rockwell!

It's funny that you should mention The Awakening Conscience, which is kind of the opposite of Persuasion: the woman has already been naughty, and now she's making her way back. I know a Catholic blogger who uses a detail from the Hunt painting in her avatar, because the painting has come to mean conversion and penitence for her.

Irena: You know, I feel the same way! I always thought the lady with George didn't seem to be feeling a real emotional connection to him--and given what really happened in George's life, that makes sense. She's not Martha, who married him, but Sally, who married someone else. (Nice dress, though. =P)

Dauvit Balfour said...

Knowing nothing of the symbolism in these paintings other than what has already been said, I felt a stronger connection to the story of Taylor's, at least until the story behind George and Sally was revealed. I somehow don't see the man in Taylor's painting as being a seducer, but... I'm not sure what I saw him as at first.

My instinct is to prefer Taylor's because I can create several different stories for it in my mind (I can pretend, for instance, that the raised left hands are clasped innocently, as David Balfour might have clasped Catriona's hand at the inn in Amsterdam). Though, going with the rejected love theme of Washington and the future-Mrs.-not-Washington makes that painting better than I initially thought. There is an emotion on her face - it's surprise and uncertainty.

Michael said...

Heh. I'm going to stick overall with George, though I like the woman in the Taylor piece. :-)

I think George is being quite "naughty" if you will, and the look of the woman seems to be one of "detachment" - a sort of "well I have been here before and I'm going to give in but the man is certainly not interested in me" kind of look.

She is fighting, but George comes off as quite the...hmmm...woooer, and she is losing.

The Taylor piece in my estimation is much more innocent, the woman much more demure, but the man I do not like. He is refined and elegant for sure but there is something about him that strikes me as almost effeminate. This may seem weird but maybe its his pants/shoes/little feet (look about the same size as hers) that tone down his masculinity. Or maybe its just me being odd.

One could look at the man as drawing this woman away from her innocence or one could look at him as simply trying to win her heart, and nothing else. I do think the suggestion is there that he is being naughty but the woman seems to exude an "inner strength" born of innocence which Rockwell's woman doesn't possess. As such his actions seem sufficiently ambiguous to give him "plausible denial" in case "blurred" lines are crossed.

For example, look at the placement of the hands. George is less than subtle (and his hand placement suggests a "familiarity" unknown to the Taylor couple) and has a mission in mind which he aims to accomplish. The unknown gent however has his hand in a much less provocative position, which can suggest a gentle and romantic caressing without influencing the innocence of the piece.

As E noted Rockwell's piece is genius because of who it is, but if I ever had the opportunity to woo E and win her heart, I would want to be the man in Taylor's piece. And of course I can only envision E as the woman in Taylor's piece, not Rockwell's. :P

Lu said...

I must I like both of them!

Enbrethiliel said...


Dauvit: Well, it is true that Taylor's painting is more open to interpretation than Rockwell's. I think everyone in this combox alone has come up with a different story for Taylor's couple!

Michael: Even when I thought the lady in Rockwell's painting was Martha, I did find her rather detached. And they didn't seem like real lovers to me. =S Learning about Sally really changed everything. I'd say what is on her face is ambivalence--as if she senses that this suitor who has seemingly nothing to recommend him is actually a better choice than the richer, higher-born gentlemen who are also courting her. But perhaps I'm just saying that because I know the whole story, including Sally's regret at the end of her life?

Lu: No worries! =) They're both pretty good.

mrsdarwin said...

Well, at first I was going to say that I liked Taylor's painting better, solely on the mystery of the girl: her face shadowed by her hair, her mysterious expression. But now, after reading everyone else, I'm not sure. I think I'll still go with Taylor, though. There's something unfinished about that story, whereas we know about GW's life.

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Mrs. Darwin! =)

You know, I was just thinking of Rockwell as a storyteller and musing that his plots are pretty predictable. No matter how uncertain the events he has depicted, we all see the happy ending coming, don't we? Whereas with Taylor, we're not half as sure.