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Portrait of John F. Kennedy

Rockwell, N.
Portrait of John F. Kennedy
signed 'Norman/Rockwell' (lower right)
oil on canvas
23 x 17 ¾ in. (58.4 x 45.1 cm.)
Painted in 1963.
The artist.
Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth J. Stuart, Sr., Norwalk, Connecticut, gift from the above.
American Illustrators Gallery, New York.
Private collection.
National Museum of American Illustration, Newport, Rhode Island.
Private collection, acquired from the above, 2015.
Surovek Gallery, Palm Beach, Florida, acquired from the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above.
Saturday Evening Post, April 6, 1963, cover illustration.
T. Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist & Illustrator, New York, 1970, p. 579, illustrated.
C. Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, p. 305, illustrated.
D. Stoltz, Norman Rockwell and the Saturday Evening Post - The Later Years, New York, 1976, pp. 209-10.
C. Finch, Norman Rockwell: 332 Magazine Covers, New York, 1979, pp. 345, 400, illustrated (as John F. Kennedy).
M. Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalog of the Artist’s Work, 1910-1978, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, pp. 87, 206, no. 1-429, illustrated (as John F. Kennedy).
L.N. Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, pp. 238-39, no. C509, illustrated.
J. Cohn, Covers of the Saturday Evening Post: Seventy Years of Outstanding Illustration from America's Favorite Magazine, New York, 1995, p. 279, illustrated.
J.G. Cutler, L.S. Cutler, Norman Rockwell's England, exhibition catalogue, Newport, Rhode Island, 2010, p. 207, illustrated.
Newport, Rhode Island, National Museum of American Illustration, Norman Rockwell's America, May 27-August 23, 2012, pp. 176-77, 253, illustrated.

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Lot Essay

Norman Rockwell defined American popular culture in the first half of the 20th century. As the nation’s preeminent illustrator, Rockwell produced more than 800 magazine covers and advertisements for over 150 companies. Most memorable was 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, in addition to numerous story illustrations for the magazine. Published as the Post cover on April 6, 1963, the present work is a quintessential example of Rockwell’s undeniable influence on contemporary American culture, as well as a testament to his striking ability as a portraitist.

The Saturday Evening Post first commissioned Norman Rockwell to paint a portrait of John F. Kennedy, along with one of his political rivals Richard Nixon, for a pair of covers released just before the 1960 presidential election. The resulting Portrait of John F. Kennedy (1960, Norman Rockwell Museum, Stockbridge, Massachusetts) graced the October 29, 1960 cover of the Post, and later the commemorative December 14, 1963 issue following the president’s assassination. In 1963, Rockwell also painted a portrait of Kennedy’s wife and First Lady, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, for the October 26 edition of the Post. The present work is Rockwell’s second and final portrait of President Kennedy.

The antithesis to the assured and confident nature of his 1960 depiction, the present work illustrates Kennedy as a man at a critical point of his career, in the throes of the Cold War. Published after the resolution to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Rockwell’s work appeared alongside the headline “A Worried President: The Crisis in His Foreign Policy.” Rockwell’s depiction of the President reflects the tension permeating the American political sphere and its impact on the nation’s leader. While a nuclear war was narrowly avoided, turmoil at home only grew with the escalating tensions of the Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing war in Vietnam.

Reflecting this cultural atmosphere, here President Kennedy is the picture of introspection and concern, looking downward with his hand pensively placed on his chin. Juxtaposing Kennedy’s illuminated face with a dark background, Rockwell shines a symbolic spotlight on the President amidst the pressure to navigate the difficult realities of a suffering nation. Of Rockwell’s skill, Thomas Hoving writes: “His portraits are spare, subdued in color, and gritty as only the naked truth is.” (“The Great Art Communicator,” in M.H. Hennesy, A. Knuston, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, exhibition catalogue, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999, p. 31) Indeed, there is nothing idealized about Rockwell’s depiction of Kennedy; instead, he candidly paints the face of America’s uncertain future.

Through his realist approach and unmatched ability to connect to the American public through his work, Rockwell’s powerful portrait of President Kennedy reveals not only the inner strife of his subject, but also holds a mirror to a nation in a time of struggle. The present work, now a memorial to a revered man lost soon after its completion, reflects Rockwell’s accomplishment as a portrait artist and his importance as a transcriber of America’s truth.

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