Many Americans agree with Babe Ruth's statement that, "Baseball was, is, and always will be to me the best game in the world." As America's preeminent illustrator, Norman Rockwell was as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created and for many, he was a household name like Babe Ruth. Indeed, his compositions are as closely associated with American life as baseball.
Over the course of seven decades the artist produced more than 800 magazine covers and advertisements for over 150 companies. These works depicted a sweeping range of topics during a century of extensive technological and social change, making Rockwell one of the most successful mass communicators of the century and allowing him to forge a sense of national identity through his art. "His images convey our human shortcomings as well as our national ideals of freedom, democracy, equality, tolerance and common decency in ways that nobody could understand. He has become an American institution. Steven Spielberg recently said, 'Aside from being an astonishingly good storyteller, Rockwell spoke volumes about a certain kind of American morality.' It is a morality based on popular values and patriotism, a morality that yearns above all for goodness to trump evil." (L.N. Moffat, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, p. 26)
Most memorable among Rockwell's achievements is his long-standing relationship with The Saturday Evening Post, a weekly periodical read by millions. Over the course of more than fifty years, the artist illustrated 322 covers for the magazine including the present work, which is a study for The Dugout (Chicago Cubs in Dugout) (1948, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn, New York), the cover of the September 4, 1948 issue. Rockwell's covers sold more magazines than any other artist's and, in this way, his art became familiar to the American public and emblematic of both the great events and the mundane experiences of the first three-quarters of the twentieth century. "On a frequent and regular basis, millions of Americans brought Rockwell's art into their homes--viewing his Post covers while seated in their favorite chairs, surrounded by personal belongings in the company of their families." (M.H. Hennessey and A. Knutson, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, exhibition catalogue, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999, p. 143)
The Dugout is exemplary of Rockwell's ability to imbue his work with narrative and capture the essence and character of the people that he depicted. In the present work he adeptly captures the anxiety tinged focus of the player who is next at bat, while his teammates' glum facial expressions and body positions reveal that the game is not going in their favor. Rockwell masterfully captures the energy of the crowd behind the players, as the highly developed individuals cheer fervently.
In discussing his career, Rockwell commented, "I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed. And perhaps, therefore, this is one function of the illustrator. He can show what has become so familiar that it is no longer noticed. The illustrator thus becomes a chronicler of his time." (as quoted in Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, p. xii) With The Dugout Rockwell succeeds not only in chronicling his time, but also in capturing the nostalgia associated with baseball. This masterwork brought a national pastime home to houses across America and continues to do so for today's viewer.