Rockwell Files: Commuters

Norman Rockwell's "Commuters" was a tribute to a brilliant friend and artist, who used perspective as her tool.

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Norman Rockwell’s 1946 cover Commuters was a tribute to fellow artist and friend Anna “Grandma” Moses, who painted in a folk-art style, rarely using perspective to convey distance. Hence, her landscapes appeared flattened and tilted forward so everything in the panorama could be seen. Commuters uses a similar style to portray Tuckahoe, New York, a very flat town that rises here like an Alpine village in the background. But the improbable landscape allowed Rockwell to make all the houses and cars of the neighborhood visible.

Commuters rushing to catch a train. The platform is crowded with waiting passengers.
Day at the races: Commuting to the Big Apple was no less of a challenge in the postwar years than it is today. Rockwell deliberately avoided using techniques to convey perspective in this tribute to the folk-art style of Grandma Moses. (Norman Rockwell / SEPS)

Grandma Moses, who only took up painting in her 70s, said she wanted her works to capture “how we used to live.” Similarly, Rockwell’s cover evokes a morning rush hour from 74 years ago that takes us back in time. Reflecting the rising postwar flight to the suburbs, Crestwood Station, a stop on the Harlem Line into New York, is crowded with well-dressed commuters. Notice how, in those days, hats were de rigueur out of doors — one exception being the housewife in curlers kissing her husband goodbye (bottom left). For a parallel to the modern commuter, notice the rapt attention each one has to their own newspaper — no socializing, no chatter. Today, of course, all that attention would be devoted to a phone.

Featured image: Norman Rockwell / SEPS

This article is featured in the September/October 2020 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.

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