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Norman Rockwell family calls Deborah Solomon's Rockwell bio 'fiction'

'American Mirror,' Solomon's bio, includes allegations that Rockwell's paintings include homoerotic undertones.

By Husna HaqCorrespondent / December 4, 2013

Works by Norman Rockwell include the piece 'Saying Grace.'

Sotheby's/AP

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His paintings depict such a warm American utopia replete with sweet small-town scenes, tender moments, and flawless family vignettes that Norman Rockwell illustrations have become something of a paragon of perfect domestic happiness. 

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But the man behind those blissful scenes lived a far darker life, fraught with anxiety, depression, and loneliness. He was a twice-divorced, thrice-married repressed homosexual who gravitated toward men and boys.

So says Deborah Solomon, author of a new – and very controversial – biography of the famous family man, “American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell.”

The allegations in Solomon’s daring new book have been drawing intense speculation about the man Americans thought they knew. After all, who can resist dark revelations about an icon of American idealism?

They are also drawing objection from Rockwell’s family, who cooperated with Solomon on the book and are calling her claims “false” and “unsubstantiated.”

First, the facts: Rockwell did, indeed, marry three times and father three sons. His first wife left Rockwell for another man, his second suffered from depression and died at age 51, possibly by suicide.

Unlike the paradigm of familial bliss he depicted in his paintings, Rockwell’s relationships with his family members, including his mother, wives, and sons, appeared to have been fraught with difficulty.

Solomon says Rockwell was married to his work at the expense of his family.

He was also a hypochondriac (hence the frequent image of doctors in his art, says Solomon) who later formed a close friendship with his psychiatrist, the famous Freud follower Erik Erikson.

He was an obsessive-compulsive neat freak who rinsed his paintbrushes multiple times a day, washed his paintings with Ivory soap, and scrubbed his studio floors. 

The assertions: Solomon says Rockwell “prefer[ed] male company,” and that “it’s possible to discern enormous homoeroticism as well as a desire to distance himself from his own desires.”

She recounted an episode in which Rockwell went camping in the Adirondacks and shared a bed with his assistant Fred Hildebrandt. The next morning he wrote in his journal, “Fred looked fetching in his pajamas.”

“He was very comfortable around men and he loved male bodies,” Solomon told the Wall Street Journal in an interview, in which she adds that there is no evidence Rockwell actually had physical relationships with men or boys.

Solomon notes that of 322 covers for the Saturday Evening Post, only three of Rockwell’s illustrations depict a traditional portrait of family of parents and at least two children. The majority, she says, feature men and boys. 

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