Sunday, December 13, 2009

Antique Doll

One more Rockwell story before I move on…

Many years ago, a frail old woman arrived unannounced at the Norman Rockwell Museum. As her attendant pushed her throughout the galleries in her wheelchair, docents noticed that she was clutching an antique doll.

Then she spoke up, “My name is Rosemary Hunter. I posed for the little girl in ‘Doctor and Doll.’ I have kept the doll for all these years. I would like to give it to the museum.”

Today the doll is one of the many treasures in the collection.

Another item related to “Doctor and Doll” is a photograph which archivist Corry Kanzenberg showed me. Ms. Kanzenberg wanted to correct my earlier post where I said that Rockwell's earliest known reference photo was from 1935. It turns out that the earliest reference photo in the Museum collection is six years earlier. It shows Miss Hunter and her doll posing along with Pop Fredericks in 1929.
More about the Museum at the NRM site.
Image licensed by Norman Rockwell Licensing, Niles, IL


Steve said...

Great story.

With all the abuse heaped on NR for using reference photos, comparing this painting to its reference really shows masterful departures from the photo. The girl's head now has a tentative, upward-looking tilt - a mixture of fear and trust. The doctor's head undergoes a similar shift, looking upward in an expression that blends kindliness with professional attentiveness. In later years, I guess NR was more adept at coaxing these expressions from his models. Still, to have the vision and to execute it is something most of his detractors could never do.

kev ferrara said...

This is a great story. Thanks for sharing.

Funnily enough, my reaction to the photo of the girl was exactly the same as Steve's above... that there is no conception out there about the level of skill and talent it takes to transform photo reference into art. Everything that is good about that girl standing there was added by Rockwell... the subtle but perfect gesture of the figure as a whole, the peeking of the face out from the collar, the particular pattern of folds in her cap, the design of the highlight on the coat and shoes, the back foot and leg, the slight tilted or bowed out expression of the feet, the way Rockwell tucks the sleeve under the doll's arm, the way he subtly softens the outline of the girl's red mitten so it looks more humble or poignant, and the closeness and similarity of the doll's head to the girl's head.

So much to appreciate if one is capable of appreciation.

James Gurney said...

Steve and Kev, I totally agree with both of you. What really hit me from Ron Schick's book and exhibition is how many tiny decisions NR made to caricature, clarify, accentuate and heighten every form.

It's really fascinating to make the kind of back and forth comparisons that you guys have shared, and it gave me a tremendous admiration for the strength of NR's vision (not to mention his incredible drawing ability).

Tom said...

Hi James

Is it true that Dean Cromwell had to take over a mural project that Rockwell was unable to complete at some point?

MaureenHume said...

I'm such a peasant, I knew very litte about Norman Rockwell's work before I got hooked on your posts and I've enjoys them so very much. The odd bits of knowledge that I'm sure I would have found no where else have been much appreciated. Thank you.

James Gurney said...

Tom, yes, there's a Berkshire bank or insurance company mural that Rockwell finished. Cornwell and Rockwell were friends and used to drive around in an old jalopy looking for antiques.

Rebecca S. said...

We had a book of Rockwell paintings when I was a kid. I was utterly fascinated by them, and now see just how talented he really was. Lovely story about the lady donating the doll to the museum. Thank-you James!

Ian Schoenherr said...

Rockwell and this painting (in progress) appear in an ad for Mennen Menthol-Iced Shaving Cream.

I'm not sure if this link will work, but it appears in Popular Mechanics for May 1929, page 115.

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Ian. That's an interesting picture. You can see that NR had the doctor about finished and it appears he was just beginning to place the little girl.