As America's preeminent illustrator, Norman Rockwell was as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created. Over the course of seven decades the artist produced more than eight hundred 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.
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 Runaway, for which the present work is a study. This was no small feat as George Horace Lorimer, the Post's editor maintained exacting standards for determining which paintings would become cover illustrations. As the covers were the magazine's single greatest selling tool, Lorimer was emphatic that they have maximum visual impact. 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. The finished version of The Runaway was illustrated as the cover of the September 20, 1958 issue and is currently in the collection of The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
This iconic image depicts a plucky young runaway in the midst of his adventure and recalls the innocence of a bygone era. Having packed up all of his worldly possessions in his neatly bundled knapsack, the boy has set out on his quest, stopping at a diner for some sustenance. A police officer sits next to him and smiles warmly at the boy, earnestly asking him to reconsider his departure. As a boy, Rockwell, too, had grand visions of running away and one can assume that his own experiences inspired this painting.
Characteristically, Rockwell did not look very far when seeking models for this work. Indeed, Richard Clemens, Jr., the 29 year-old state trooper whom the painting depicts, was a neighbor of the artist in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Clemens, who recently passed away in May 2012, was asked to don his uniform and meet at a local diner. There he was introduced to an 8 year-old boy, Eddie Locke, who had been recruited from a nearby elementary school. Subsequently, the two formed a close bond after sitting together for hours while Rockwell worked on various iterations of the composition. In 2008, the Massachusetts state police reunited Clemens and Locke for a 50th anniversary celebration in commemoration of Rockwell's iconic painting.
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)