Norman Rockwell, as much as Walt Disney or Ronald Reagan, provided America with a mirror of its dreams and aspirations. As the star illustrator for The Saturday Evening Post for nearly half a century, Rockwell portrayed a fantasy of civic togetherness, of American decency and good cheer. Or, as Deborah Solomon writes in her authoritative new biography, he painted "a history of the American people that had never happened." Who was Norman Rockwell? Behind the folksy, pipe-smoking facade lay a surprisingly complex figure-a lonely man all too conscious of his inadequacies. Solomon describes him as an obsessive personality who wore his shoes too small, washed his paintings with Ivory Soap, and relied on the redemptive power of storytelling to stave off depression. He wound up in treatment with Erik Erikson, the influential psychotherapist. American Mirror draws on unpublished papers to explore the relationship between Rockwell's anguished creativity and his genius for reflecting American innocence. "The thrill of his work," writes Solomon, "is that he was able to use the commercial form of magazine illustration to thrash out his private obsessions."
In American Mirror, Solomon, a biographer and art critic, trains her perceptive eye on both the art and the man. She also brilliantly chronicles the visual history of American journalism and the battle pitting photography against illustration.