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.
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