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Norman Rockwell (1894 - 1978)

Lot 51: NORMAN ROCKWELL 1894-1978

Sotheby's

November 29, 2006
New York, NY, US

More About this Item


Description

BACK TO CIVVIES

measurements
39 by 30 in.

alternate measurements
(99.1 by 76.2 cm)

signed Norman/Rockwell, l.l.

oil on canvas

Painted in 1945.

PROVENANCE

Roughton Galleries, Dallas, Texas
Acquired by the present owner from the above, 1985

EXHIBITED

Fairfield, Connecticut, Gallery for the Center of Financial Studies, 1985

LITERATURE

The Saturday Evening Post, December 15, 1945, illustrated in color on the cover
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, no. 248, p. 196, illustrated in color (as An Imperfect Fit)
Norman Rockwell, Rockwell on Rockwell: How I Make a Picture, New York, 1979, p. 82, illustrated
Laurie Norton Moffat, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, no. C424, p. 163, illustrated

NOTE

As 1945 drew to a close, America cautiously entered into a period of renewed optimism and self-confidence following six long years of international strife. The official end of World War II on August 15th had been met with an unprecedented public outpouring of emotion, etched forever in the American mind by the famous images from the V-J Day Times Square celebration. On a much smaller scale, mothers, sisters and daughters in homes across America breathed a collective sigh of relief, secure in the knowledge that their "boys" were coming home. Norman Rockwell devoted one last Saturday Evening Post cover to the story of the recently returned American soldier: the humorous Back to Civvies (December 15, 1945; figure 1). The scene depicts a young flier home after the war to find his civilian clothes too small. It is the final chapter in Rockwell's important series of images of World War II soldiers back on American soil, a subject which had allowed him to enter a new phase of artistic maturity. According to Christopher Finch, "[T]he war brought out the best in him and turned him toward the naturalistic portrait of home-town America which he put to good use in the decades that followed. His immediate contribution to the war effort on the home front was quite considerable. What is most important about this period, in relation to his career as an illustrator, is the fact that he was given an opportunity to prove to himself and to others that he was capable of dealing with serious subjects without abandoning the human touch which had always been his trademark" (Norman Rockwell's America, 1975, p. 200).

Rockwell hired Arthur H. Becktoft, Jr., a fellow Arlington resident and a United States Air Force pilot, to pose for the character of the young flier. Becktoft was a skilled Flying Fortress pilot who had been shot down in a mission over Germany and survived. Rockwell gathered up child-sized articles of clothing and he and Becktoft experimented with a variety of poses before arriving at the final composition (figures 2 and 3). The result, Back to Civvies, captures the joy experienced by the Air Force pilot as he tries on his old clothes in his childhood bedroom. Turned sideways, the beaming young man stands proud and tall before the mirror; his strong arms and shoulders and lean physique evidence of the strict Air Force regimen. He smiles laughingly as he pulls at the sleeves of his now too small jacket, perhaps noting with equal amusement the unfashionable length of his now cropped pants. The low, cathedral style ceiling artfully frames the composition, visually reinforcing that the young man has outgrown his setting.

Rockwell's skill as a story-teller is evident in his deliberate inclusion (and omission) of particular details. The scene is filled with symbols of both childhood and manhood: a model plane and a black and white picture of "mom" sit atop the dresser, while an 8 by 10 glossy of a glamorous blonde movie star is pinned to the wall beside a group of colorful neckties casually hung across the mirror. To achieve an all important feel of authenticity, Rockwell decided to use Becktoft's uniform and satchel in the final painting, as "Lt. A.H. Becktoft" is clearly written across the duffel bag. Rockwell faithfully renders the various medals and pins on the uniform jacket.

Finch asserts: "...most of Rockwell's wartime work is filled, surprisingly perhaps, with warmth and humor...he painted soldiers, sailors, flyers, and marines, trying to relate them to their everyday, peacetime environment. This meant, of course, that he had to paint that environment, and the war period saw the opening of the era in which a detailed setting became the norm in Rockwell's work. He also painted civilians and their responses to the war. This was, creatively speaking, an extremely fertile period; it marked the birth of Rockwell's mature idiom" (Norman Rockwell's America, 1975, p. 30).

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November 29, 2006, 12:00 AM EST

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