Rockwell Paints Rockwell

How often did Norman Rockwell show up in his own art? You’ll be surprised!

“Triple Self Portrait” – Feb 13, 1960
"Triple Self Portrait"
From Feb 13, 1960

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We showed you how Rockwell painted himself into his famous cover, “The Gossips” (see Rockwell: Behind the Canvas). Where else has our favorite artist popped up?

“Triple Self Portrait”– Feb 13, 1960

“Triple Self Portrait” – Feb 13, 1960
“Triple Self Portrait”
From Feb 13, 1960


Rockwell pokes fun at himself in 1960’s “Triple Self-Portrait.” The Rockwell in the mirror has foggy glasses. Rockwell’s reasoning for that was so “I couldn’t actually see what I looked like—a homely, lanky fellow—and therefore, I could stretch the truth just a bit and paint myself looking more suave and debonair than I actually am.”

There are a lot of interesting details other than the debonair gent at the easel. A student of great artists, Rockwell had self-portraits of masters pinned to the upper right of his work. We see Durer, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and a funky post-cubist Picasso, all of which Rockwell himself painted.

Rockwell was thrilled when, on a trip to Paris, he saw the helmet that sits atop his easel in an antique shop. He was sure it was centuries old, of Greek origin…or perhaps Roman. After purchasing it, he stopped to observe a fire. He realized the same helmet he was sure was a precious antique was typical Parisian fireman’s gear.

“Blank Canvas” – Oct 8, 1938

 “Black Canvas” – Oct 8, 1938
“Blank Canvas”
From Oct 8, 1938


Rockwell had done approximately one hundred and forty covers by the time of this whimsical 1938 painting. The Post wasn’t the same without renowned editor George Horace Lorimer (who passed away the previous year) and the great artist was restless. So he did a cover about running dry of ideas because…well, he was. The young artist is a parody of himself: tall, lanky and with the ever-present pipe tucked into a back pocket. There sits that danged blank canvas atop of which rests a pocket watch and lurking deadline. Even the horseshoe isn’t bringing any help…perhaps because it’s upside down.

“The Holdout” – Feb 14, 1959

“The Holdout” – Feb 14, 1959
“The Holdout”
From Feb 14, 1959


There is a holdout in this tense jury scene. It has been a long hard deliberation if we read the table detritus and debris on the floor. A lone but determined female is wreaking havoc in the man’s world of 1959.

Most of the models are Rockwell’s friends and neighbors. The artist enjoyed small-town life as he knew many of the faces and could often find just the right one for a particular scene right at home. The gentleman leaning down behind the woman and attempting to be persuasive is our beloved artist and model himself. Rockwell made a sort of Jack Benny joke about it—he appeared in the painting because he wouldn’t have to pay himself a model’s fee. But, we’re sorry, Norman; it appears the lady is immovable.

“A Family Tree” -October 24, 1959

“A Family Tree” From October 24, 1959
“A Family Tree”
From October 24, 1959


This family tree is a regular “Where’s Waldo?” Okay, “Where’s Norman?” Who is in your family tree? A saloon gal? An aristocrat? A pirate? The possibilities intrigued Rockwell. Before reading on, click on the cover for a close look and see if you can pick out Rockwell. Hint: It’s hard!

Here’s another hint: Most of the men: the gentleman in the cowboy hat, the prospector with the full beard, the Confederate and Yankee soldiers, the pirate, etc., are the same man, and that model was not the artist. How the artist could do so much with one face defies belief. The dour woman with the cameo at her neck (middle right) is…are you ready…the same man! The rather sour, straight-laced minister next to her is Mr. Rockwell himself.

“The Homecoming” -December 25, 1948

 “The Homecoming” - December 25, 1948
“The Homecoming”
From December 25, 1948


How I love this cover! Not only do we see Norman (upper right with his pipe), but the whole family! Hugging the blond young man is Rockwell’s wife, Mary, and yes, although we only see his back, that is eldest son, Jerry, on the receiving end of the embrace. The happy young man in the plaid shirt is middle son, Tommy, and the youngest boy, Peter can be seen with glasses at the far left.

Besides the Rockwell clan, there are various friends and neighbors. One of these was little Sharon O’Neill in the red skirt. Rockwell thought she was so darn cute he painted her twice – as twins! And next to Tommy Plaidshirt is another delightful artist playing the role of Grandma in this happy scene—Rockwell’s friend, Grandma Moses.

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  1. wow! what fun to see most of these over again-some having seen many times!-and first learning the stories and people behind them. thanks a bunch.

  2. Fun to see Norman Rockwell in his own covers. I know there are others, the cover about the gossip comes to mind. Thank You for the article.

  3. Diana, you really did your homework on these Rockwell covers, and we’re much more enriched and enlighted because of it. Thank you!

    I love each and every one of these. ‘The Homecoming’ (where I could easily find Rockwell) almost borders on looking like a color PHOTO more than art or illustration. On the ’38 cover, I’m sure there were many times when he faced a blank canvas not knowing quite what to do.

    What a family tree the boy at the top comes from on this 1959 cover. Although I don’t know if this is a real family tree, I’m thinking it is based on fact. It really makes me wonder what mine would look like! As far as the earlier ’59 cover goes, I can’t get past all of that cigarette smoke; sorry. I’d have made a bad juror, caving in right away just to get out of there!


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