Book Review: The Norman Rockwell Treasury

Publisher: Galahad Books

Year: 1987

Pages: 216

Type: Hardcover

ISBN: 0-88365-411-3

Norman Rockwell began by being successful.” – Author

Everyone who knows and loves illustrative art knows the work of Norman Rockwell from the covers of the Saturday Evening Post. But this prolific artist did far more than that!

Rockwell passed away on November 8th of 1978. It may surprise you to know that he continued to work right up to his death, ending a long career that had started in the 1920s. His body of work is unbelievably extensive!

This book was published originally in 1979, just one year after Rockwell’s death. This volume is a reprinted copy by a different publisher in 1987.

This treasury is divided into four main sections covering the life and output of the artist. His many marriages, insecurities, heartbreaks, and triumphs are carefully related but without too much detail. The book is easy to read for this reason and instead relies heavily on images to tell its story.

Before reading this book I was mainly familiar with Rockwell’s work from his Post covers and some other publications. So it was enlightening to see images from his sketchbooks to see his process.

Rockwell is known for a realistic style but one that can still be recognized as paintings. But he was skilled enough to produce photo-realistic images as well, as the two pictures above show. They look good enough to be photographs, but are actually still paintings!

From family portraits to images of United States Presidents, Rockwell could render a perfect likeness of anyone using only charcoal pencil.

What I found fascinating is that Rockwell tried several times to branch out into completely other forms of art. He dabbled in abstract and other trending genres but was always shot down by the publications paying for his work. It frustrated him, so I think he did the image that is found on the back of the book as a passive-aggressive protest:

See? I can do it!” – Rockwell

Many years ago my wife and I travelled to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA. Seeing the original full-size paintings was truly awe inspiring! It would be prudent to visit as soon as you can due to something I learned while reading this book. Namely, Rockwell painted to publish, not preserve. In other words, the techniques he used weren’t conducive to his pieces lasting. He used very thin washes of paint with varnish layered in between. This varnish has yellowed over time and caused the paint itself to flake off! Obviously restoration efforts have arrested further damage and saved these timeless masterpieces… for now. But will the damage continue?

I would give this book a solid 5 Out of 5 Stars. The text is comparatively sparse with just enough length to give you the amount of information you need to put Rockwell’s life and art into perspective. But if you just want to have a coffee table book full of pretty pictures, it is that!

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