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Home From Camp

Home From Camp
signed 'Norman/Rockwell' (lower left)
oil on canvas
26 1⁄2 x 23 in. (67.3 x 58.4 cm.)
Painted in 1968.
The artist.
Top Value Enterprises, Inc., commissioned from the above.
Acquired by the present owner from the above, circa late 1980s.
Top Value Enterprises, Inc., Top Value Stamps: Family Gift Catalogue, 1968, cover illustration.
C. Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, p. 77, no. 81, illustrated.
M. Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalog of the Artist's Work, 1910-1978, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1979, p. 236.
L.N. Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, vol. 1, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, pp. 554-55, no. A804, illustrated.
S.G. Josephson, From Idolatry to Advertising: Visual Art and Contemporary Culture, New York, 1996, n.p., fig. 3.8, illustrated.

Brought to you by

Tylee Abbott
Tylee Abbott Vice President, Head of American Art

Lot Essay

As America's preeminent illustrator, Rockwell ranks among the greatest mass communicators of the 20th century. Painting a sweeping range of topics during a time of extensive technological and social change, he helped forge a sense of national identity through his art. Rockwell was witness to the height of Impressionism as well as the development of Cubism, Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. He traveled to Europe to study the art of Pablo Picasso and he was aware of the move toward Modernism in America by Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko, among others. Despite the trends of the day, however, Rockwell chose to pursue a career as an illustrator, producing more than 800 magazine covers and countless advertisements, calendars and story illustration. In doing so, Rockwell became as ubiquitous to the American public as the images he created. Depicting a tender familial reunion, Home from Camp embodies Rockwell’s unparalleled ability to captivate American heartstrings through his empathetic depictions of community and domestic life.

The present work was published as the cover illustration of the 1968 Top Value Stamps gift catalogue. Rockwell completed eight covers for the company from 1966-1973. Anticipating the modern frequent buyer program, trading stamps were introduced in the 1890s, in frequent use by the 1930s and flourishing from the 1960s to early 1970s. Virginia Mecklenburg writes, “In the 1950s and 1960s, when Rockwell was a household name, grocery stores, beauty salons, gas stations and other retailers purchased stamps from a variety of firms—Top Value and S&H Green Stamps were two of the largest—and gave them in numbers proportionate to money spent in their establishments. Although amounts varied, shoppers typically received ten stamps for each dollar spent, then pasted them into booklets that they redeemed for gifts, appliances, clothing, sporting goods, home furnishings or personal items. Children and adults pored through catalogues to select premiums and often saved for months or even years to acquire expensive items like televisions or lawn mowers.” (Telling Stories: Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2010, p. 185) In Home from Camp, Rockwell accordingly paints a plethora of the items which a parent might buy their young child with the stamps, including a baseball hat, backpack, and camera.

In Home from Camp, Rockwell captures a scene that could have occurred in any American household: a young boy, smiling ear to ear, happy to see his parents and pet after a summer of fun. Judy Larson and Maureen Hennessey elaborate on this point further, explaining “While other illustrators might choose the high points and milestones of life, Rockwell focused on the elusive commonplace moments. He chose mundane experiences and elevated them to levels of great significance. He avoided the wedding ceremony, for example, in favor of applying for a marriage license; he did not paint the football hero scoring the winning touchdown, but the proud moment when he receives a letter from an adoring cheerleader.” (Norman Rockwell: A New Viewpoint, in Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, exhibition catalogue, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999, p. 48) Like in so many of Rockwell’s best works, it is in the details that he weaves in the subtle nuances which complete his narrative. From the birdbox at lower left lovingly inscribed “For Mom,” to the just-opened door implying the boy’s recent return, every detail is meticulously planned and thought out to further heighten the narrative. Rockwell used such motifs and intricacies in his best works used as advertisements including The Watchmaker (1948. Private collection).

To create the intricacy of Home from Camp, Rockwell created two known pencil sketches and took a series of preparatory photographs, the latter which he adopted in the 1940s. Rather than isolating his figure or figures against a blank background, as he had done in prior years, he began to paint fully realized and often quite elaborate backgrounds in his best works from this period. In order to achieve the desired effect, Rockwell no longer relied solely upon professional models, enlisting them for hours on end, as he had done in his early years in New Rochelle. Rather, upon his move to Arlington, he began to incorporate photography into his creative process. This method meant he could stage elaborate tableaus as subjects and capture the various expressions of his sitters in an instant. Rarely satisfied with a single photograph, the finished illustration was often a composite of many. David Kamp writes of this exhaustive creative system, “First came brainstorming and a rough pencil sketch, then the casting of the models and the hiring of costumes and props, then the process of coaxing the right poses out of the models, then the snapping of the photo, then the composition of a fully detailed charcoal sketch, then a painted color sketch that was the exact size of the picture as it would be reproduced, and then, and only then, the final painting.” ("Norman Rockwell's American Dream," Vanity Fair, November 2009, p. 5) This new approach, coupled with towns around the country full of fresh faces willing to pose for the celebrity artist, meant a flurry of artistic inspiration. As a model in Home from Camp, Rockwell employed his dog, Pitter Rockwell, to serve as the family pet welcoming the young boy home.

Similar to the often-idealized world of the movies, Norman Rockwell's work has been characterized as a reflection of our better selves, capturing America as it ought to be. His work is simultaneously both of a moment and timeless in its communication of the universal truths of human nature. "In the twentieth century, visual imagery permeated American culture, ultimately becoming the primary means of communication. Rockwell's images have become part of a collective American memory. We remember selective bits and pieces of information and often reassemble them in ways that mingle fantasy with reality. We formulate memory to serve our own needs and purposes. Rockwell knew this instinctively: 'Everything I have ever seen or done has gone into my pictures in one way or another...Memory doesn't lie, though it may distort a bit here and there.'" (M.H. Hennessey, A. Knutson, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, exhibition catalogue, Atlanta, Georgia, 1999, p. 64) Indeed, Home from Camp embodies the very best of these ideas associated with Rockwell: photographic realism, classic timelessness and hopeful nostalgia.

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