DescriptionNORMAN ROCKWELL (American, 1894-1978)
The Song of Bernadette, 1944
Oil on canvas
53 x 28 in.
Signed lower right
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York, 1947
Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 2007-13.
L. Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, p.82, fig. A607;
A. Guptill, Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, p.132.
A. Marling, Norman Rockwell: America's Most Beloved Painter, p.52
N. Rockwell, et. al., The Norman Rockwell Album, p.112
Ladies' Home Journal, January, 1944, p.79
Norman Rockwell's famous full-length portrait, The Song of Bernadette, was among the most reproduced work of Rockwell's entire career. With its somber palette and astonishing realism, this work is stunning in its conception and execution, recalling seventeenth century genre paintings by such masters as Diego Velasquez and Jusepe de Ribera.
This original work was commissioned as the centerpiece of an unprecedented publicity campaign announcing a film of the same name by David O. Selznick and starring Jennifer Jones, which opened in December, 1943. 'Nothing else I have ever painted was reproduced in so many ways,' said Rockwell of this work.
Peyton Boswell Jr., editor of the Art Digest and author of Modern American Painting, provided many captions in the official press book for the 20th Century-Fox production of Franz Werfel's novel, The Song of Bernadette. In the book, Boswell chronicles the events in Rockwell's life immediately prior to his creation of this work:
"Early in 1943, Norman Rockwell completed his famous series of paintings, The Four Freedoms. Now his stature became international and he was the recipient of a global wave of acclaim. It was at this time that the artist conceived of a subject comparable in emotional appeal and perhaps even more challenging to his mature craftsmanship. He saw Jennifer Jones as the simple girl of Lourdes in The Song of Bernadette, and she was the inspiration for one of his finest canvases. Here, through the medium of one lone girl, glorious and exalted, could be created a painting to inspire people of all walks of life. This portrait of Bernadette will reach the hearts of all who see it - for in its subtle expressiveness, in every stroke of the brush - it conveys the essence of everything that was so movingly written into The Song of Bernadette."
In this the most highly acclaimed film of 1945, Jennifer Jones starred in the title role of Bernadette Sobirous, the Maid of Lourdes, whose fame derived from her unshakable faith and courage. Film reviewers enthused: 'In the title role of the Maid of Lourdes, Jennifer Jones makes the most auspicious debut in Hollywood history. Here is a star - and one who has flared into being with a brilliance that shines the mark of greatness. A bow to David O. Selznick for her discovery!' Indeed, the film won five Academy Awards, including 'Best Actress of the Year' for Miss Jones.
In the press book for the film, the image is reproduced over fifty times, including one with a photograph of the artist at work at his easel. In Arthur Guptill's monograph, Norman Rockwell, Illustrator, which features this work on page 132, Rockwell commented, 'Nothing else I ever painted was reproduced in so many ways. In addition to its being run in magazines, newspapers, and on theatre posters, I was told that it covered the entire wall of one eight-story building.' In an essay for the Norman Rockwell Museum's 1999 show of Rockwell movie poster art, the author noted: 'In an unusually ambitious 20th Century Fox publicity campaign, advertising director Charles Schlaifer decided to use a 150-foot high display of Rockwell's illustration for The Song of Bernadette above a Broadway theater marquee. According to Schlaifer, 'It absolutely sold the picture' and was one of the most effective pieces ever created for a motion picture.
Laurie Norton Moffatt's comprehensive Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue reproduces the work on page 483, as entry A607, and notes that the painting's location was unknown for a number of years. It was later discovered in the private collection of the film's producer, William Perlberg (1900-1968). Ownership subsequently passed to the Mount Saint Mary's Academy in Los Angeles; thence, to private collections.
A copy of the movie poster accompanies the painting.
Unlined canvas. Faint stretcher crease on the upper edge. Light surface dirt. Scattered areas of faint linear craquelure in the upper and center quadrants with cosmetic inpaint. Paint layer stable. Varnish layer visible. Strengthening along the bottom edge. Figure's face and hands have not been touched. Framed to an overall size of 54 x 39.5 inches.
Rockwell, Norman:Born in New York City on February 3, 1894, Norman Rockwell began his illustrious career at a young age, receiving his first commission to paint Christmas cards at sixteen and illustrating his first book just the following year. Rockwell’s artwork made its debut on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post on May 20, 1916, becoming his first of 323 covers that would be published by the iconic American magazine over the next 47 years. Accordingly, his success with The Post captured the attention of other publications including Life, Judge and Leslie’s, and the young artist enjoyed a fruitful income throughout the 1920s. He received commissions from household names such as Jell-O, Boy Scouts of America and Orange Crush soda, among others. The 1930s and 40s also proved to be prolific periods in Rockwell’s career, despite some critics who pigeonholed his work as “kitschy”— intended for reproduction use only and therefore lacking in true artistic merit. Even some of his contemporaries referred to Rockwell as an “illustrator” instead of a painter—a label he willingly embraced. Nevertheless, Rockwell used his creative platform to draw upon social and cultural issues facing America and was praised by the public for his ability to capture the triumphs and tribulations of the common man. His political and social commentary became more apparent during the latter part of his career, and he began to receive greater recognition as an artist when he contributed to several projects condemning racism and stressing the importance of integration for the younger generations. His influence on society remains memorialized not only through his paintings but also the publications, advertisements and literature that exposed his body of work to a wider audience and allowed the greater public to appreciate what he had to say.
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