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Rockwell exhibition in Caen captures the mood of America

by Neil Hennessy-Vass

An exhibition at the Memorial Museum in Caen aims to showcase the fundamental values that led to D-Day on 6 June 1944

Staged to coincide with the 75th anniversary of D-Day, this is the first European exhibition of Norman Rockwell’s work. Incorporating over 80 works of art, documents, illustrations and related objects, the exhibition is impressively housed in the Caen Memorial Museum. Rockwell, as well as being a painter, author and illustrator, was most famous for capturing American culture and mood on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post magazine for nearly five decades.

In January 1941, 10 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt gave his famous ‘Four Freedoms’ speech. Rockwell illustrated the speech and toured the USA in 1943 with a collection of his work entitled Four Freedoms War Bond tour. By this time America had joined the war and money needed to be raised.

As well as illustrating books, film posters, advertising for Coca Cola and painting portraits of four US presidents (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) he is fondly remembered for his association with the Boy Scouts of America contributing to their calendars between 1926-1976. His lifelike, but sweet, renditions were dismissed as bourgeois and even kitsch during his lifetime, but have since become revered. Later in his career he undertook topics that were uncomfortable, such as the painting of Ruby Bridges, a young black girl being escorted to school by four white men where she was the only pupil of colour. What’s on display here is a moment that encapsulates the race struggle in America’s 60s perfectly. The additional material associated with this and other pictures is fascinating as there are photographs of the models used to create the images. All were shot individually by Rockwell and give an insight to his working practices in which he painted from photographs (as he did with the Four Freedoms series), casting models and extras where necessary.

To call him just an illustrator and not an artist as some critics stated (he himself was happy with that designation) is to undervalue his work in my view. He had his finger on the pulse of America for so long. Every detail in these paintings can be put down to his skills of social observation and knowing what made the population tick. This is a fine exhibition and quite a rare one. These works are mostly kept in private collections and at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. It covers much of his oeuvre and gives context with accompanying artefacts and memorabilia. Admission is a small supplement to the entrance of fee for the main museum of €19.80



Showing until: 27 October 2019

Le Mémorial de Caen Esplanade Général Eisenhower CS 55026 14050 Caen Cedex 4


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