Norman Rockwell's "Study for Artist Facing Blank Canvas (Deadline)"

‘Norman Rockwell: Stories of Emotion’ at Dayton Art Institute

An exhibition of more than a dozen works by the American artist looks at how he interpreted the moments of everyday life. 

Norman Rockwell was known for his ability to combine emotion and skill into expressive paintings and illustrations that drew on universal human themes, and the late artist’s works are still beloved today for their humor and poignancy. Norman Rockwell: Stories of Emotion, on display at the Dayton Art Institute from Oct. 23 through Feb. 13, features more than a dozen Rockwell works on loan from multiple private collections that offer an intimate look at the artist’s work and the way he saw the world.

“Everything in the exhibition, it just exudes all of the ideas and feelings of Norman Rockwell,” says Jerry Smith, chief curator and director of education at the Dayton Art Institute. “His works really have this wonderful singularity of vision that he was able to portray in which he’s looking at everyday life and finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.”

An illustrator for most of his life, Rockwell created 323 covers for The Saturday Evening Post over a 40-year span. Painting lighthearted images, he avoided the desolate and bleak parts of life, saying he wanted to “paint life as I would like it to be.” One of his many famous works, “Study for Artist Facing Blank Canvas,” also known simply as “Deadline, will be on display along with other paintings, drawings and prints that offer a window into how Rockwell expressed himself through art. 

“Emotions are what help define us as people, and he looked at the human condition like few others had,” says Smith. “Images of happiness, sadness, tired, bored, just sheer enjoyment of taking part in an activity like singing, he did that beyond compare.”

The intimate Focus Exhibition will also showcase works from other artists, including a John Rogers sculpture. Portraying the same style as Rockwell through sculpture in the 19th century, Rogers created sculpture groups and works of plaster that could be given as gifts for life’s special moments, such as anniversary or wedding presents. In the same way as Rockwell would do years later, Rogers aimed to show a more humorous, lighthearted and charming angle in his work that catered to the human emotion.

“Rockwell stayed true to his nature and did the realist work and the illustrated work,” says Smith. “It’s only in the last 15 to 20 years that museums have really learned to appreciate what Rockwell offered and what he was doing.”  

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