Norman Rockwell, ‘The Fireman ’, ca. 1944,  M.S. Rau Antiques
Norman Rockwell, ‘The Fireman ’, ca. 1944,  M.S. Rau Antiques
Norman Rockwell, ‘The Fireman ’, ca. 1944,  M.S. Rau Antiques
Norman Rockwell, ‘The Fireman ’, ca. 1944,  M.S. Rau Antiques

Perhaps the only work to have been inspired by an antique gilt frame, this work by American illustrator Norman Rockwell is pure humor. Displaying Rockwell’s remarkable talent for capturing the true character of his subjects, the work exudes all of the appeal and absurdity for which Rockwell’s oeuvre is so loved. The dynamic work is a well-executed preliminary study for Rockwell’s May 27, 1944, a cover of the Saturday Evening Post, which he later gifted to the Gordon Swan, the fire chief in Arlington, Virginia.

The painting was conceived in an antique's store after Rockwell stumbled upon a rather remarkable frame carved with axes, hoses, ladders, and other tools of firefighting. Immediately inspired, Rockwell set out to fill the unique frame with the perfect sitter. Howard Lewis of Dodd, Mead, and Company, a pioneer New York publishing house, met Rockwell at a publishing party a short time later, and Rockwell, immediately struck by Lewis' old-fashioned look, invited the man back to this studio, where he dressed him in a turn-of-the-century uniform, complete with bushy mustache. For pure comedic effect, Rockwell finished the work with a stiffly disapproving glare, aimed at the lit cigar beneath the painting for a clever picture-within-picture effect.

For over seven decades, Norman Rockwell captured the attention of millions of Americans with his 322 Saturday Evening Post cover illustrations. Each week, Americans brought his art into the intimate space of their homes, engraining Rockwell’s images into the cultural narrative of the country. This humorous work exudes the Americana charm of Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post works, which have come to embody the values of their era.

This study for The Fireman is listed in Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue by Laurie Norton Moffatt, no. C410a.

Circa 1944

Paper: 34 1/8” high x 27 1/4” wide
Frame: 49 1/4” high x 42 3/8” wide

Signature: Signed and inscribed "To/ Gordon Swan/ sincerely Norman Rockwell” (lower right)

Gordon Swan, fire chief of Arlington, Vermont
Skinner, American & European Paintings, May 21, 1981, Sale 740, Lot 107
Private collection, Massachusetts
M.S. Rau Antiques, New Orleans

About Norman Rockwell

Few artists are as closely tied to the American identity as Norman Rockwell—though the idealistic images of happy families, playful school children, and humble towns he created during his 47-year career at the Saturday Evening Post were nostalgic even in their day. “The view of life I communicate in my pictures excludes the sordid and ugly,” the artist said. “I paint life as I would like it to be.” To create these detailed slices of life, Rockwell created meticulously planned photographic studies. After leaving the Post in the 1960s, his paintings took a more political turn, and he spent the last decade of his life creating works that dealt with issues such as civil rights and the fight against poverty.

American, 1894-1978, New York, New York, based in Stockbridge, Massachusetts