Web exclusive: What does an artist see?

Triple Self-Portrait by Norman Rockwell (1959) from a recent Rockwell Calendar – Andrew Tornetta ’20

The eye of an artist. Not many people are able to ever understand it. But sometimes, an artist allows the audience into their vision.

     Norman Rockwell’s “Triple Self-Portrait” (1959) is a unique oil on canvas. The canvas is 44 1/2″ x 34 1/3″ inches, and it features Rockwell himself three times over.

     There is such a “wow” factor when gazing upon this piece. It is once you notice that Rockwell has painted himself three times in one image that you realize how obscure and intriguing the piece really is. It seems as though Rockwell has tried to play with the audience’s attention because of the effect the piece has on the audience once they give it a true examination and make the discoveries that Rockwell tried to exploit.

    In allowing the audience into an artist’s eye, the audience is also exposed to those who have and continue to influence the artist.

     One of the other stand-out factors is Rockwell’s decision to add glasses while he is painting the portrait but not on the portrait itself. 

     Rockwell invites the audience not only into the painting experience but his vision of himself as well. It seems funny when an artist paints a self-portrait intentionally making minor changes from their actual appearance. He made the conscious decision to give himself glasses in reality but not in the portrait possibly to invite the audience into his sense of humor and irony.  

Norman Rockwell with a pipe in his mouth later in his life – US Department of the Interior via Wikimedia Commons

     Rockwell is clearly using paintbrushes in the photo, but the portrait that he is working on seems to look more like a drawing than a painting. It is done only in shades of black and white and the texture that Rockwell has given the portrait is quite similar to that of a pencil-drawn portrait – the graininess and lack of deep black shading.

     Maybe it is just supposed to be a very faint first layer of paint to establish the location and position of his portrait, or maybe it really is supposed to be a pencil drawing. Either way, it is interesting that Rockwell decided not to make the portrait at a later stage of development, or make it in color at all, as the rest of the whole piece is done in color.

Young Norman Rockwell photographed in black and white – Bain News Service via Wikimedia Commons

     Several colors stand out. 

     The reference photos attached to the edges of the canvas are actually referencing paintings created by other artists; one of them is a famous Van Gogh self-portrait.

     In allowing the audience into an artist’s eye, the audience is also exposed to those who have and continue to influence the artist. By clearly adding reference photos of Van Gogh’s work it is clear that Rockwell has been tremendously influenced by his work and wanted that to be made clear to the audience of this specific piece.

     Many might look at this painting and simply think to themselves, “That is a nice painting of Rockwell painting himself”, yet, the story is so much more than that.

Author: Andrew Tornetta '20

Andrew Tornetta '20 is a student in the journalism seminar. He was in Mr. Keefe's Honors English IV class and won a Silver Key in the Scholastic Art & Writing competition. He is a student leader of Peer Counseling and has been on both the golf and crew teams for four years.