02 December 2010


Norman Rockwell Painting Smackdown, Round 3B
(Revisit Round 1, Round 2, the Interlude, and Round 3A)

Last week's Turkey Day face-off ended with victory for the live gobbler as the ironically named Cousin Reginald Catches the Turkey beat Couple Uncrating Turkey by a single vote!

We have also have a definite winner for our first finalist: as both Daniel Boone and the Underwood Portable before it, Freedom from Want didn't stand a chance against Forgotten Facts about George Washington.

Now let's have this week's mini face-off:

The Connoisseur vs. The Tattoo Artist

Here we have Rockwell the illustrator playing around with the idea of "art." I've said elsewhere that his pitch-perfect parody of a Jackson Pollock might have been what earned him the ire of art snobs everywhere. On the other hand, one hopes the "inked" community appreciates his light satire of the permanency of their own chosen medium.

And now what you've all been waiting for--the contender which will take on the ridiculously victorious General George Washington in the final round . . .

Round 3B:
The "Freedom from Want" Four

No Swimming . . .

Rockwell loves his emblems, no matter how obvious. If Thanksgiving must have a turkey and girls must have dolls, then boys must have their puppies. But the puppies are far easier to forgive than the dolls because, as you can see here, they participate in the plot.

This painting almost went up against Freedom from Want because it expresses the same kind of universality the latter was going for. For there are boys like this in every country in the world--and in every period of history. Who could blame any young lads for taking an illicit dip on a hot day--a bit of trespassing that really doesn't hurt anyone--and then hightailing it half naked so that they don't get caught? Even better, who has been one of those young lads?

Well, I've never been a boy, but I've always been a reader. So it was easy for me to compare them to Tom Sawyer (and Huck Finn!)--and even to Peter Pan . . . or at least to Tootles! Now let me throw in Tommy Bangs, too. (You know which book he is from, right?) If I were a better reader, I'd also know whether any of Tom Brown's or Beetle's company of friends could stand up to the same comparison. But I am at least a passable big sister and I recall one episode from Camera Man and Cue-card Boy's younger days in which they could have been the inspiration for this very painting.

Which brings me to another thing I've always loved about Rockwell: the way his paintings seem to be sneak peeks into greater stories. This one is a prime example. And while we're on the subject, wouldn't it be hilarious if those three fleeing boys--

. . . The Three Umpires

--grew up to be these stoic old umpires? =P

Believe it or not, I hadn't known the rule about rain until I watched an old Hollywood movie. A couple is making up after a fight while watching a little league baseball game (Yeah, it's contrived; but stay with me!). The woman can't believe the man is willing to wipe the slate completely clean, when it starts to rain. The pitcher of the losing team is so thrilled at the promise of a fresh start that he does backflips . . . and Kim Novak, much more moved by the same, kisses James Garner under a shared rain slicker.

So what we have here is kind of a "grace" rule--baptismal imagery and all. The baseball diamond isn't where we expect to see the first being last and the last being first--but sports arenas were "baptised" as early as the first century by St. Paul himself.

Yet note that these umpires aren't priest figures. In Round 1, I compared them to the three Fates of Greek mythology. What they say goes and you can rail all you like against them to no avail. And yet . . . these three male "fates" are obviously men under orders (if you catch the allusion from another faith). They don't look any happier about the rain than the coach whose team was winning . . . but rain is rain and baseball is baseball.

Going back to the idea that baseball was the sport of America's Greek period, I wonder whether summer baseball games served a similar cathartic purpose to Ancient Greek's own tragic drama.


No Swimming vs. The Three Umpires

Winner: No Swimming--because there is effortless magic in Rockwell's most light-hearted illustrations which never really made it into his more serious works.


Now before we jump into next week's final round, let's have another wild card entry. Because, you know, it's fun. =P

Besides, pairing the most famous three boys in art against this solemn triumvirate of umpires has put me in the mood for a third corner to this post. And what better painting to challenge today's victors than that depicting the unlikely trinity of diner owner, policeman and runaway boy?

In short, you're voting twice again this week. Shall our other top two finalist be No Swimming . . . or The Runaway?

Image Sources: a) The Connoisseur, b) The Tattoo Artist, c) No Swimming, d) The Three Umpires, e) The Runaway


Irena @ This Miss Loves to Read said...

Between No Swimming and The Runaway I vote for The Runaway. That little boy is just too cute and the poor thing is alobe, depending on good will of strangers, I suppose.

As for the other two images, I vote for The Coonisseur. I love the balance of colours. The painting is all colours and the man is a gray entity, serving as a contrast.

Dauvit Balfour said...

I have to go with the Tattoo Artist. It looks almost Escher-ish, the way the floor turns into the wall without, apparently, changing angles. (Speaking of Escher and face-offs... if I had a steady readership on an established blog, I'd totally do that).

As sad as I am to see the Umpires lose out (having been one myself, for a time), I still have to go with No Swimming over the Runaway, because, despite the great American tradition of hating the team that beat your team, I still find myself wishing I could be one of those boys. Maybe I'll go buy a dog...

Salome Ellen said...

The Runaway and .... (man this is hard) I guess The Tattoo Artist. But this is so indecisive that if there is a tie you may discard my answer.

Lesa said...

I like them all so as not to strain my brain I will go with the two that connect with my own life.

Tattoo Artist-- No, I have no tattoo but one of my lifelong friends is completely covered in tattoos and is the best tattoo artist in Austin Tx.

No Swimming-- Girls go on illicit swims too, you know. And that is all I will say about that. ;o)

Enbrethiliel said...


Irena: And thank goodness for him that they seem to be kind strangers! You're right that there's more going on in The Runaway.

Thanks, as always, for your votes. =)

Dauvit: Ah, I know what you mean. I find myself wishing I could be one of those boys, too. =P I'm also wishing that you'd do an Escher face-off anyway. Come on!!! Give me a chance to vote, why don't you? =D

Oh, by the way . . . did you ever get into a fight over a controversial call???

Ellen: And now you know why I've opened so many rounds up to votes. That way, I get to be sneaky and "pick" both, while my readers agonise over having to choose just one! ;-)

Lesa: Oh, yes, girls do! ;-)

You remind me that the the "No Swimming" Girl in Rockwell's ouvre is doing something very different . . .

This is the best image I could find online: http://s.ecrater.com/stores/8941/44d417a9ba895_8941f.jpg

But I can see why a grown man wouldn't find it proper, in this case, to put girls in the place of boys.

Paul Stilwell said...

The Connoisseur and The Runaway.

The Connoisseur because I'm all for any satirizing of Pollock's (and his ilk's) work. The satire in the image doesn't even need to try.

The Runaway because it has many more levels.

Enbrethiliel said...


LOL! I know what you mean about The Connnoisseur. ;-)

The Runaway is one which I really regretted not having in the smackdown, so as much as I love the "classic" No Swimming I'm glad it's doing so well now. =)

CMinor said...

It was tough, but I'm going with The Runaway. I like the movement and the boys' expressions in No Swimming, but the color in the Runaway is livelier and though it's more subtle, there is action there. I agree with those who point out that there's more depth--the story it's telling is more complex than that in No Swimming.

And Tattoo Artist, hands down. What a story that one tells!
(Anyone not familiar with this painting, do an image search on it--on a number of print dealers' sites you can enlarge it for a detailed view.)

The name Tommy Bangs kind of jumped out at me, but I couldn't for the life of me remember where he came from! I looked him up and am now hip--just be careful of the images link at the top of the page if you have to do the same.

Enbrethiliel said...


The main reason The Runaway didn't make it into the smackdown was that I could only see it with either The Soda Jerk or After the Prom (for the diner settings, you know) and neither seemed very strong. I see now that I should have paired it with No Swimming from the very beginning and just forgotten about those boy scouts!

CMinor, I remember an ad for Hershey's chocolate that "stole" the story in The Tattoo Artist. (Well, if Rockwell did it to Taylor, why couldn't an advertiser do it to him? LOL!) In the ad, a man's upper arm has several names inked into it, all of them crossed out but the last one--and the last one is the same as the first. He is also holding a Hershey bar, and the message is that you should stick with your first love (whether a woman or a chocolate bar) because she/it will always prove to be the best.

And Tommy Bangs has proven to be an unfortunate name, hasn't it? =P He was originally Tommy Banks, but I think that spelling slipped Alcott's mind when she finally sat down to write Little Men! The other two boys could be Nat and Stuffy, I guess.

Paul Stilwell said...

The more I look at The Runaway, the more I see the little boy in the two men, and see that the two men see the little boy in themselves, and that they too have made their own real journeys with their own little satchels and one of them became a cop and the other became a diner owner and they are still on their journeys, and maybe they foresee a great future for this youngster?

Enbrethiliel said...


I especially love the knowing grin on the diner owner's face. He's like the wise bartender of urban lore--but more accessible to one who can order only milkshakes.