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Auction Name: 2020 December 3 American Art Signature Auction - Dallas
Lot Number: 68175
Shortcut to Lot: HA.com/8013-68175
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978)Portrait of John F. Kennedy, The Saturday Evening Post
cover study, April 6, 1963
Oil on canvas
20 x 13 inches (50.8 x 33.0 cm)
Signed and inscribed lower right: preliminary / sketch / Norman / Rockwell
Tilting at Windmills Gallery, Manchester, Vermont;
Private collection, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, acquired from the above, circa 1965.
Bennington Museum, Bennington, Vermont, 1988.
T. Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist & Illustrator
, New York, 1970, p. 579, illustrated;
L.N. Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue
, Vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, p. 239, fig. C509a, illustrated.
As "illustrator of the American people," Norman Rockwell celebrated democracy through a wide array of professions: farmers and factory workers, homemakers and teachers, artists and accountants, doctors and soldiers, and, most aspirational, U.S. presidents. During the 1950s and '60s, for both magazine articles and covers, Rockwell painted dozens of portraits of U.S. presidents, presidential candidates, and the spouses of these men, notably Mamie and Dwight Eisenhower, Adlai Stevenson, Jackie and John F. Kennedy, Lady Bird and Lyndon B. Johnson, Eugene McCarthy, Barry Goldwater, Patricia and Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Nelson A. Rockefeller, Eleanor and George McGovern, and Robert Kennedy. Saturday Evening Post
readers instantly felt a connection with these public figures as Rockwell made them accessible, typically imaging them in relaxed poses, with beaming smiles and direct gazes. The October 1964 Look
story "I Paint the Candidates" reveals that Rockwell reveled in this role as "painter of the presidents," finding the job variously humorous and dignified.
Although Rockwell masked his political affiliation in his early career, the tumultuous 1960s transformed him into an outspoken social liberal and an especial admirer of John F. Kennedy, whom he captured in lifetime and commemorative portraits. Rockwell first met then Senator Kennedy in 1960 at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, when the Post
commissioned the artist to paint the presidential candidates. After touring the grounds and Kennedy's sailboat, the two settled in for a photography session, and Rockwell achieved "an expression [that] was just what I wanted-serious with a certain dignity, but relaxed and pleasant, not hard." The resulting portrait appeared on the October 29, 1960 Post
cover and, three years later, on the December 14, 1963 cover in the wake of Kennedy's assassination. Rockwell also memorialized Kennedy in two story illustrations: A Time for Greatness
, July 14, 1964) spotlights a youthful candidate Kennedy at a campaign rally encircled by an exuberant crowd holding banners from different states, and The Peace Corps (JFK's Bold Legacy)
, June 14, 1966) overlaps Kennedy's profile with the profiles of young black and white Americans committed to service.
The present preliminary study for the Post
cover Portrait of John F. Kennedy
is quite extraordinary in Rockwell's Kennedy and larger U.S. presidential oeuvre for depicting a current president struggling with the weightiness of his administration. The portrait forms part of a 1963 cover series that the Post
commissioned from Rockwell featuring world leaders wrestling with international events: the January 19 cover depicts Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, chin in hand, musing about "His Crisis with China," and the May 25 cover shows Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser in solemn profile, pondering "His Turbulent World." Sandwiched between is this April 6 cover capturing JFK with furrowed brow and downcast eyes, as the magazine headline underscores, "A Worried President" agonizing over "The Crisis in His Foreign Policy." Indeed, the past six months of international crises had shaken Kennedy to the core: the U.S.'s discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba in October 1962, the "Cuban Missile Crisis," had nearly led to a nuclear conflict with Russia; the Vietnam War was dragging on with no end in sight; and Kennedy and the Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker continued to bicker over Canada's unwillingness to allow the U.S. to station nuclear weapons there.
More specifically, Rockwell's Portrait of John F. Kennedy
was meant to accompany the Post
interior article "The Collapse of Kennedy's Grand Design" by Stewart Alsop. Here, Alsop describes Kennedy's "grand design" for a Western alliance hinging on the support of the French: the politico-economic part of the design would allow Britain to join the Common Market, creating a United Europe with which the U.S. would form a "concrete Atlantic partnership"; the military-strategic part of the design proposed that the U.S. would bring to this partnership a "centrally [i.e., U.S.] controlled atomic deterrent" while the Europeans would add 30 military divisions to NATO. Completing squelching Kennedy's grand design was French Prime Minister Charles de Gaulle, who said "non" to these stipulations, thereby "striking a blow at the foundations of American defense and foreign policy." Recognizing that the U.S. would never "withdraw its commitment to defend Europe with its nuclear force," de Gaulle "played a judo trick on the U.S. . . . [He] means to fashion his 'European construction,' based on the Franco-German axis, led by France . . . and excluding the British and Americans. And he means to do this under the umbrella of the American nuclear deterrent. . . .
[Ironically,] the strongest power in the Western alliance, [the U.S.,] has amazingly little bargaining power" (S. Alsop, "The Collapse of Kennedy's Grand Design," The Saturday Evening Post
, April 6, 1963, pp. 78-81).
With this interior story in mind, Rockwell chose to depict a perturbed and therefore very human Kennedy. The president's furrowed brow suggests his frustration, while his chin resting on his hand evokes Rodin's The Thinker
. These particular facial signs of worry and contemplation turn Kennedy into an everyman, equalizing him among other Rockwell characters like the focused law student, overwhelmed nursemaid with crying baby, perplexed man in a voting booth, or exhausted traveling salesman. In addition, certain formal qualities of the cover study--the large-weave canvas simulating pixels and the "black-and-white" palette--underscore its media purpose: This image of Kennedy is the stuff of popular magazines, newspapers, and TV, not a formal portrait for the White House. Ultimately, Rockwell, who embraced the social liberalism and optimism of the Kennedy administration, wanted the American people to empathize with their president. His "real" Portrait of John F. Kennedy
did just that--allowed Americans to believe that Kennedy was one of them, working hard, even agonizing on occasion, to make the world a better place.
Canvas is glue lined and unstretched; canvas is adhered to mat board along the upper edge; one circular tear and a section of loss to the upper left corner; slight overall brittleness to the canvas; a few loose threads along the cut edges if the canvas; upon UV inspection, there do not appear to be any signs of in-paint.
Framed Dimensions 27 X 22 Inches
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