Please note this lot includes a photograph of the present work signed by Norman Rockwell as well as letters exchanged with the artist about the present work dated 1972.
Barefoot Boy Daydreaming appeared on the July 22, 1922 cover of The Literary Digest. Norman Rockwell created 47 covers for the magazine, beginning in 1918. This commission followed his early success as a cover artist for another esteemed publication, The Saturday Evening Post. Through numerous cover illustrations for the Digest and Post, Rockwell's timeless images of everyday America entered the homes of millions of people. His descriptive painting style and ability to encapsulate the traditional and nearly universal values shared in the American experience contributed to his tremendous popularity. Barefoot Boy Daydreaming serves as a primary example of Rockwell's skillful ability to present an enduring and heartwarming image that continues to resonate with the public even decades after its creation.
Rockwell achieved success early on. At the age of eighteen, in 1912, he had his own studio in New York City and was supporting himself doing advertising work for local companies. During his tenure as Art Editor at Boy's Life, Rockwell was granted access to several other periodicals and soon found himself working freelance by providing covers and story illustrations for many other magazines. During the late 1910s, illustration jobs were becoming increasingly competitive as magazines were incorporating more photographic images into their layout and rising costs in book publishing were limiting opportunities for illustrators in that field. It is probably due only to his talent and drive that Rockwell was largely unaffected by this trend. "At an age when most young men are leaving college, Norman already ranked as one of America's leading illustrators." (A.L. Guptill, Norman Rockwell: Illustrator, New York, 1946, p. 72)
In 1916, one of Rockwell's illustrations appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post for the first time. This great achievement was a windfall for the artist, leading to commissions from a variety of magazines, including Collier's, The Literary Digest and Life. "By 1938, Rockwell's illustrations--on calendars, in books and magazines, tacked up on bedroom walls, often framed--were a familiar presence in the American home and had been for a long time." (S. Murray, Norman Rockwell At Home in Vermont: The Arlington Years, 1939-53, Bennington, Vermont, 1997, p. 5) Rockwell was innately aware of the public's interest, wants and needs and ceaselessly delivered highly marketable works with incredible proficiency and alacrity.
Recognizing the readership's nostalgia for childhood innocence, Rockwell produced Barefoot Boy Daydreaming for the cover of The Literary Digest. In the work, a plump boy is leisurely enjoying a moment of rest against a tree providing shade, a welcome respite from the noonday sun. Rockwell had previously depicted this subject in his 1919 cover for The Saturday Evening Post, entitled Lazy Bones. In that composition, the figure is silhouetted against a white background, to best suit the printing methods of the Post. Barefoot Boy Daydreaming has a much higher degree of finish, with an entirely realized background and a bold and vivid palette, demonstrating Rockwell’s development as an artist during that pivotal three year period which separates these two covers.
In Barefoot Boy Daydreaming, a familiar companion is also seated by the tree--a large black dog, who, like the boy, is enjoying the shade. “Throughout Norman Rockwell’s career, dogs of all kinds--from wide-eyed beagles to shiny collies--made frequent appearances in his art. A dog-lover himself, the artist realized how appealing dogs were to readers of the Saturday Evening Post and other publications, and he intentionally cast them as central figures in his compositions for cover paintings, story illustrations, advertisements, and family Christmas cards. Rockwell’s own canine companions accompanied him to the studio, and sometimes took time out to nap alongside him as he worked. He also borrowed neighbors’ dogs to serve as models, enlisting their owners to assist them in striking a pose. Offering advice to fellow artists, he coached them to portray animals ‘as carefully and understandingly’ as they paint people in their work, and filed away stores of photographic reference for his use.” (“It’s a Dog’s Life: Norman Rockwell Paints Man’s Best Friend,” www.nrm.org, 2011)
Barefoot Boy Daydreaming encompasses so many of the themes that defined the artist’s long career as America’s storyteller. Rockwell noted, "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 Barefoot Boy Daydreaming, Rockwell succeeds in capturing the nostalgia of childhood that is as familiar today as it was nearly a century ago when he painted this charming work.