A son's view of the

To Peter Rockwell, one of the three sons of iconic American painter-illustrator Norman Rockwell, his father was a complex man - and a much more serious artist than we think.

Though identified with small-town life through his Saturday Evening Post magazine covers, the senior Rockwell was born in New York City and loved the city. He would take his young sons on trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, getting so excited by the paintings that the guards would have to ask him not to get so close.

What is being termed "the most comprehensive [Rockwell] exhibition ever assembled," "Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People," opens tomorrow at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., after having toured in Atlanta, Chicago, Washington, San Diego, and Phoenix.

Peter Rockwell, who spoke in April at a luncheon in Boston publicizing the exhibition, noted that his father would paint his subjects in far more loving detail than would ever show up in the magazine-cover reproductions.

"He paints in technique like a 17th-century Dutch painter," said Peter, himself a highly regarded sculptor now living in Italy. "He adored the act of painting."

Rockwell's "Triple Self-Portrait" (1960) is a "sophisticated comment on self-portraiture," Peter says. In it, his dad sits at an easel painting his own portrait, looking in a mirror. Sketches pinned to the easel show he has worked on several different versions already.

But Rockwell, his self-portrait, and his reflection each look slightly different. We're being told something about the nature of all self-portraiture. And something about how his own work, though painted in a "realistic" style, never reflects "real life" in quite the way we might have assumed.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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