DescriptionNorman Rockwell (American, 1894-1978)
The Right to Know, Look magazine preliminary, 1968
Oil on photographic paper laid on joined panel
10-1/2 x 18-1/2 inches (26.7 x 47.0 cm)
Signed, titled, and inscribed lower right: color sketch for "Right to Know" picture. To Allen and Bill Loos / sincerely / Norman / Rockwell
J. Willard and Allie Loos, gift from the above;
The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio, by bequest from the above, 1974;
Judy Goffman Fine Art, New York;
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Columbus, Ohio, and elsewhere, "Salute to Norman Rockwell," October 7-31, 1976, no. 57;
Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, Mississippi, "Norman Rockwell: The Great American Storyteller," March 2-May 15, 1988, no. 63;
Cortina d'Ampezzo Museo, Corso, Italy, "Norman Rockwell," August 3-September 16, 1990;
Naples Museum of Art, Naples, Florida, and elsewhere, "Norman Rockwell: American Imagist," January 2-April 15, 2009.
The Columbus Gallery of Fine Arts, Salute to Norman Rockwell, exhibition catalogue, Columbus, Ohio, 1976, n.p., no. 57, illustrated;
L.N. Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Vol. II, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, p. 712, no. S428a;
J. Goffman, A.L. Myerges, L.C. McKinnon, Norman Rockwell: The Great American Storyteller, exhibition catalogue, Jackson, Mississippi, 1988, pp. 36, 43, no. 63, illustrated.
For over fifty years, Norman Rockwell's classic covers for The Saturday Evening Post had reinforced traditional, middle-class American values of family, faith, community, and economic prosperity. In 1963, his career took a sudden turn when he stopped working for the Post and began illustrating topical, sometimes provocative political and social themes for the bi-weekly Look. Rockwell embraced the optimism and liberalism of the Kennedy administration and became an advocate for racial justice and world peace. His paintings for Look address issues of desegregation, notably the sensational The Problem We All Live With, depicting a black girl, Ruby Bridges, being escorted by U.S. marshals into a white school in New Orleans; space exploration, showing the first men on the moon and the Apollo II team; presidential elections, featuring portraits of John F. Kennedy, Barry Goldwater, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon; and the Peace Corps' fight against poverty in such countries as India, Ethiopia, and Columbia.
For the August 20, 1968 edition of Look, Rockwell designed a group portrait, The Right to Know (Private collection), as pointed commentary on the need for more government transparency in the midst of the unpopular Vietnam War. Indeed, following the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, and the controversial presidential election of Richard Nixon earlier that year, many citizens were distrustful of a government that had allowed 16,000 American soldiers to die in Vietnam. For the painting, Rockwell posed over thirty people representing the diversity of America -- young, old, black, white, businessmen, students, hippies, and even himself smoking a pipe on the far right -- in a panoramic frieze, standing, as if in a Senate hearing, before a broad desk and empty chair meant for a politician and/or the viewer. This distinctive format of overlapping numerous heads in a single composition appeared in both his 1963 The Golden Rule and 1966 The Peace Corps (J.F.K.'s Bold Legacy). For The Right to Know, Rockwell based the portraits on individual photographs he had carefully taken over the course of three months. The colorful faces stare sternly at the politician-viewer, demanding attention and respect, and reinforcing the accompanying text:
"We are the governed, but we govern too. Assume our love of country, for it is only the simplest of self-love. Worry little about our strength, for we have our history to show for it. And because we are strong, there are others who have hope. But watch us more closely from now on, for those of us who stand here mean to watch those we put in the seats of power. And listen to us, you who lead, for we are listening harder for truth that you have not always offered us. Your voice must be ours, and ours speaks of cities that are not safe, and of wars we do not want, of poor in a land of plenty, and of a world that will not take the shape our arms would give it. We are not fierce, and the truth will not frighten us. Trust us, for we have given you our trust. We are the governed, remember, but we govern too" (Look, August 20, 1968, pp. 48-9).
Look reiterated the rabble-rousing message of this text and Rockwell's illustration by covering the people's "Issues" on the pages immediately following: "War and Peace," or the country's need to pull back from Vietnam; "Black and White," or the need for racial equality; "The Ghetto/Violence and Crime," or the need for urban law and order; and "The Troubled Dollar," or the need to rectify wealth disparity.
Heritage is pleased to be offering the present lot, a preliminary color study for The Right To Know. While most of the characters are the same in both paintings, Rockwell made several adjustments from the study to the finished version: for example, he removed the two children from the front row, repositioned various figures, and added himself behind the hippie girl. Most significant, Rockwell reoriented the collective gaze of the crowd, so that instead of glancing down in submission or defeat, they stare directly at the viewer in a confrontational manner, questioning the government's actions. Rockwell dedicated the study to patrons Bill and Alice Loos, who owned several of his works, including a tempera version of equally charged The Problem We All Live With.
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