After witnessing their son Norman draw the character Scrooge from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Mr. and Mrs. Rockwell allowed him to attend art school for the first time. Norman Rockwell would become one of the most sought-after illustrators of the mid-twentieth century, as well as one of the most iconic American artists of all time. When he began creating commissions for The Saturday Evening Post in 1916, his work would reach millions of Americans, touched by the artist’s trademark wit and warmth.
The idea of a “Norman Rockwell Christmas” is one that has crystallized in American culture. American holidays, and Christmas in particular, played a central role in Rockwell’s career, which resulted in much of the imagery and iconography that remains central to the popular conception of the holiday today.
Rockwell’s frequent engagement with Christmas as subject matter was due in part to his important professional relationship with The Post. In 1899, the publication’s formidable editor, George Horace Lorimer, began to observe the major American holidays by commissioning artists to create special cover images in celebration of them. From this directive, motifs like J.C. Leyendecker’s New Year’s Eve babies and Rockwell’s jolly Santa Clauses were born. Rockwell also created Christmas-themed advertisements for numerous prominent American companies.
How does Rockwell’s work still make us feel so “Christmassy” even all of these years later? Karal Ann Marling (“Rockwell’s Christmas,” Norman Rockwell: Pictures For The American People, New York, 1999, P. 155) put it best:
“Norman Rockwell is generally credited with the invention of the modern American Christmas and the tender sentiments attached to it: kindly Santa Clauses who ponder each juvenile request; merry Dickensian travelers bound for home on cold winter nights; cozy hearths; windows aglow with warm light spilling out across the snow; fathers and grandfathers in red suits and beards; sprigs of holly and mistletoe; mysterious packages; tired salesclerks; and exhausted department-store Santas. Rockwell helped to create the outlines of a secular, commercial holiday suffused with the intense feelings of a religious ritual—but a ritual in which he largely declined to participate, except as a shrewd and not unsympathetic observer.”