A Tale of Two Streets

There’s a 17th-century Dutch painting within Rockwell's 1953 cover, Walking To Church.

Norman Rockwell, © SEPS

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Norman Rockwell, © SEPS.

You may not see it, but there’s a 17th-century Dutch painting within the 1953 cover, Walking to Church. Rockwell depicts a family, dressed in their Sunday best, on a city street before the neighbors awaken to take in their milk and newspapers. The scene may seem quiet, but Rockwell showed us, with a line of birds rising in sudden flight from the steeple, that the church bells have begun ringing.

Rockwell’s cover reflected his admiration of View of Houses in Delft, a 1658 painting by Johannes Vermeer that showed a quiet street in the Dutch artist’s hometown. Not only did Rockwell copy Vermeer’s theme, but he also tried to replicate its 21-by-17-inch size. Rockwell’s painting is tiny, for him — just 19 by 25 inches. He wanted to paint it the same size as the Vermeer original, but he couldn’t get a canvas small enough. “Couldn’t paint it better than Vermeer,” he said. “So I painted it bigger.”

Editor’s note: This article has been corrected from the version which appeared in the March/April issue. The article in print was published under the wrong author’s name and stated that Rockwell’s painting was 19 by 18 inches.

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