For my birthday my sister got me “The Best of Norman Rockwell”, which is a lavishly illustrated book with no real biography or notes. The plates and prints are incredibly well produced and run the course of Rockwell’s career. It’s a beautiful book and one of my favourite art books.
Rockwell was primarily an advertising and magazine illustrator who started work on some nicely presented but rather flat advertising paintings. They’re nice illustrations and show great technical skill, but they don’t really show the products off and tend not to look striking at a distance. His magazine covers started later and tended towards a formula, often effective as images but showing a high degree of repetition.
And then something happened. Because the work in the book is presented mainly chronologically you can see the moment where Rockwell goes from capable but limited to being something else entirely. In the late 30s he married his technical skill with great composition and even better draughtsmanship. There is a piece called “Simply a Sharpshooter” (that, unfortunately, I can’t find a good copy of on Google to link) that marries composition, a great use of light and dark, sheer technical bravura and a dynamic and exciting set of figures. It has foreground, middle ground, background and far background. It is, put simply, absolutely incredible. And the 40s onwards are full of works near that quality.
It’s a beautiful, inspiring and intimidating book. Made all the better for having surprises in and because of the wonderful level of reproduction.