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American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  385 Ratings  ·  109 Reviews
The long-awaited biography of the defining illustrator of the twentieth century by a celebrated art critic.

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 dec
Hardcover, 493 pages
Published November 5th 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published 2013)
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Kressel Housman
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Norman Rockwell, but because of this book, I’m sold on him now! What prompted me to read it was a comment on the call-in show “Indivisible Radio,” which aims to get Americans of diverse points of view to understand each other in these divided times. The comment was made on the show focusing on the urban/rural divide, and the caller said that she thinks that people who liked the slogan “Make America Great Again” were wishing for America to look like a Nor ...more
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was ok
I learned more about Rockwell. However, I despised Solomon's speculations about Rockwell's sex life. I did not see anything in any past interviews or articles that would ever lead me to believe that Rockwell was a closet pedophile. Oh that's right - Solomon said he never ACTED on these impulses. And telling me that a doll in one portrait is practically masturbating?! How dare you. I've seen more serious and honest writing on Wikipedia.
Jul 30, 2014 rated it did not like it
Without a pinch of evidence, author Solomon gags that America's favorite magazine illustrator was (perhaps) a pedophile. Can I say that (perhaps) she's an alcoholic? I haven't a shred of evidence, but let's unzip our fantasies. This strip-tease arrives bare-back from FSG.
Apr 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
I knew of the controversy regarding this book before I read it but I am stunned at just how bad it was. Solomon provides an interpretation of Rockwell that is so biased as to almost be laughable if it weren't so sad. She sees in his imagery a closeted homosexual and borderline pedophile. Apparently she's never heard that adage that you create from what you know or what you understand. OK so Rockwell's first love was his art and he led an overly structured life but few artists don't in their own ...more
Biblio Files
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
American Mirror was the most entertaining book I've read this year. I read it straight through without skipping the boring parts, because there just weren't any. Author Deborah Solomon is an art critic as well as a biographer, so that brought an extra dimension to the life story. It was every bit as much about the art as about the man.

I've always had a love/hate attitude toward Rockwell's illustrations. I admire the composition and the realism, but I hate the cutesy facial expressions. But the p
Mar 05, 2014 rated it liked it
I was very keen to read this book after several excellent reviews in a number of publications, and when I started it I was immediately hooked on the life of an artist who was underestimated during his lifetime by his peers and critics, and who also underestimated himself. Through the first half of the book, I was impressed with the author's command of the subject and details of Rockwell's life and the people he worked with. As I wound my way through the second half, however, the author began to ...more
Beth Nieman
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
Disappointing. I was excited to read the details about Norman Rockwell, but this book is filled with the author's speculations. You can see them coming, because she often prefaces them with the word "perhaps."

Solomon sees repressed sexual desires in innocuous details of Rockwell's life and work, such as a the fact that he wasn't robust and athletic, or that he traveled to Paris to study the old masters in the company of male artist friends, or that he took a hunting and fishing trip to the back
It's an age of globalization. People from some cultures take interest in or otherwise get introduced to those of the others. This is exactly my case. I needed to tell the readers of my Russian-language blog (all from the ex-USSR) about Norman Rockwell and his paintings.

I was short of time and mostly skimmed through the book, mostly stopping to read paragraphs pertaining to featured illustrations. They explained to me, rather uninitiated to depths of American XX cent. culture, the true meaning an
Dec 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Benjamin Franklin, Mark Twain, John Wayne, and Norman Rockwell. Few quartets are as diverse yet few have been as influential in shaping the way in which we Americans see ourselves and how the world sees us.

Norman Rockwell has long deserved a full-length, definitive biography. Deborah Solomon has attempted to do that in "American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell."

Solomon is a gifted writer who has crafted a page-turning biography. A professional art critic, Solomon gives Rockwell his
Barbara Williams
Norman Rockwell is what us illustrators consider a success. He is what the art world considers a propaganda artist, in the same vein as Thomas Kinkade; saccharine, kitschy and AMERICAN. He was an illustrator during a time where illustration was not considered “high art,” yet he was a household name. I too must confess that I found him to be a droll and not thought provoking. A “he keeps the masses happy” AKA the Jerry Bruckheimer of illustration. So I am glad that I read this book, because I fou ...more
Good golly, Ms. Solomon, what were you thinking? I did read it to the end, as the photos and proven facts were interesting, and because I love Norman Rockwell's work.

Evidently, Ms. Solomon is supposed to be a respected art critic. But she certainly seems to think she's a psychoanalyst. I truly thought I would throw up when I read her assassination of Rockwell's Girl at the Mirror. The disgusting imagery she conjured up regarding the discarded doll was just too much. And her constant accusations
Jul 04, 2014 rated it did not like it
Shelves: biography
Provides no new information or insight. Solomon seems equal parts annoyed and befuddled by her subject. Rockwell, despite the author's years of research and 400+ pages of writing, remains aloof and he keeps his own secrets. The author is forced to rely on increasingly speculative "insights" from selected works and habits of Rockwell to prove...what, exactly? The homo-eroticsm she finds says more about her than him and her constant habit of seeing things in their worst possible light do Rockwell ...more
Aug 07, 2014 rated it liked it
3 1/2 stars. If not for the one issue I have with this biography, I'd have given it 5 stars.

Prior to reading American Mirror, I'd have guessed Norman Rockwell to be a different kind of person altogether (the guess based on his paintings alone, so not fair of me, I know). The humor part though, that's him.

Ms. Solomon did an excellent job chronicaling Norman Rockwell's career path from school to illustrating for the Boy Scouts, the Saturday Evening Post & beyond. Also well done was the histor
Jun 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
While this book is frequently insightful, engaging, and entertaining its flaws too often outweigh the positives. The frequency of the word "perhaps" that is most disturbing for the author uses it as a catch-all for her extensive and excessive interpretive whims. She assumes everything from latent homosexuality to pederasty, though in both cases the author admits there is no evidence of either. So why does the author include it? Why make mention of that which there is no evidence? In these cases ...more
This book should forever be referenced as a prime example of libel, the defamation of someone's character through the use of the written word. Deborah Solomon manages to insert sinister undertones and criminal motivations throughout much of Rockwell's life without providing a shred of credible evidence. Instead, she coats her malicious statements with layers of indefinite words like "perhaps", "maybe," and "probably." According to Solomon, Norman Rockwell was a homosexual pedophile who cross-dre ...more
Rhonda Keith
Feb 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Interesting read, and it's good to see Rockwell getting his due as an artist.

This is a long book, heavily researched, with quite a bit of extraneous detail not pertinent to Rockwell that could have been cut. Mistakes were bound to creep into this mass of info, such as when Solomon wrote that Rockwell flew down to Cape Canaveral in Orlando. Cape Canaveral is on the coast, Orlando is not. The painting "Going and Coming" also appears as "Coming and Going." Future biographers may want to check facts
Margaret Sankey
Jul 11, 2015 rated it really liked it
Norman Rockwell's work created an image of the artist as a folksy New England small-town Yankee, beloved by townspeople and a warm and trusted presence on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post for half a century. As always, reality was far more complicated--a New Yorker with a preference for southern California artist colonies, capable of capturing intimate human relationships but not having them himself, a standard-issue 1920s Republican who evolved into the populist illustrator of the New Dea ...more
Evanston Public  Library
Deborah Solomon’s biography, American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell, claims to be the first definitive biography about the famous illustrator and does a remarkable job explaining how Rockwell’s illustrations have resonated with the American public since his first Saturday Evening Post cover in 1916. Solomon gives fascinating insight into the evolution of Rockwell’s paintings over the span of his 60-year artistic career. However, her sometimes flippant characterization of Rockwell i ...more
Nov 23, 2014 rated it liked it
Sad because of the unfounded allegations made in the book but interesting too because of the home life Rockwell came from compared to the type of paintings he did, i gave the book 3 stars. Norman Rockwell really led one life and portrayed another. I have always admired his art and that was partly from knowing a family who posed for Rockwell and owned two of his paintings. This book is hard on Rockwell and those who surrounded him including a gallery owner who exploited him at the end of his life ...more
Feb 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: recommend
I have always been a big fan of Norman Rockwell "art" (illustration?). I still consider it art. From the time I was a kid and visited Stockbridge, I have been fascinated. I disagree with many of the reviewers who feel the book focused on his sex life or lack of it. His upbringing was devoid of any parental affection and in fact he was pretty much ignored by his parents - which obviously reflected on his personality.

I purchased the hardback book because I wanted to look at the illustrations and
Nov 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lost-notebooks, eq
This is the worst biography of Rockwell Kent I have ever read.

(Just kidding. A very solid, enjoyable, and thorough biography. Solomon goes a little overboard on the pop-psych investigations of Rockwell's sexual preferences, but the chapters on his political awakening are very interesting, and throughout the book, she has a great ear for anecdote. Considering how chilly and inaccessible Rockwell seemed to be, her ability to present him here as a complex, three-dimensional figure are very admirabl
Jan 11, 2015 rated it liked it
I have had a lifelong affinity for Norman Rockwell's art, finding it (as many Americans have) familiar and comforting, in a way that exceeds even the familiarity of real life. This is a comprehensive biography, that illuminates the man behind the art as well as the man behind the genial pipe-smoking Everyman he wore as his public face. Parts were almost too comprehensive, detailing every trip and malady Rockwell experienced, but the exploration of where he and his art fit into the larger art wor ...more
Feb 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Actually, let's call this 3 1/2 stars. The only parts not good about the book were the author's psychobabble analysis of Rockwell's paintings and of Rockwell himself (as many reviews have despaired). Otherwise, it detailed his life very well.
I have to say that although I admire Rockwell as an artist, I really don't think I would have liked him as a person. At least in his early years, he seemed very self-absorbed and entitled. Later, he was excessively obsessive-compulsive. The author tries to d
Roger K. Miller
Oct 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
A very good biography that does a lot, thankfully, to raise the reputation of this American artist who for a long time has been derided, unreasonably, as a mere illustrator of kitsch and warm-fuzzy domestic scenes. The author, Deborah Solomon, presents the basic structure of his personal and family life, shows us how he composed his paintings, and analyzes quite well their themes (both overt and hidden), and analyzes how -- and how well -- he achieved his artistic goal in each.
Jan 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed it much more than I had expected to. Recently, one of his models objected to the author's suppositions of homoreoticism. I do think she read way more into his enjoyment of his male friends and activities than was merited. What is wrong with just assuming he was a well behaved man not obsessed with sex who possibly saw the world the same way he depicted it?
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
One of the best biographies i have read. Solomon's account of Rockwell's life is fasciinating - this is a wise and judicious account of a complex artist and of his work. I especially appreciated her analyses of his paintings which are much more profound than at first glance. She also shows how Rockwell's work evolved and grew more complex over time - i gained a new respect for his work.
Aug 09, 2014 rated it liked it
The life and art were interesting, but the allegations and allusions were over the top. Too many projections by the author were cemented into "truth."
Jane Kriegler
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding and engaging biography of Mr. Rockwell. It is well written and illustrates the layers of Mr. Rockwell's personality and his art in a open and honest manner.
Apr 01, 2015 rated it did not like it
Her writing goes against everything I learned about writing of art.
Aug 03, 2017 rated it liked it
'It was, in the end, Rockwell’s great theme: the possibility that Americans might pause for a few seconds and notice each other. The people in his paintings—the daring schoolboys and rumpled old men, the black schoolgirl in New Orleans and the white schoolgirl with a black eye, the young runaway seated in the diner, and bride-to-be in the yellow dress standing on her toes as she signs her marriage license—they all require the presence of another pair of eyes to complete their story.'

Rockwell is
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Deborah Solomon (born August 9, 1957, New York City) is an American art critic, journalist and biographer. She writes primarily for The New York Times and her weekly column, "Questions For," ran in The New York Times Magazine from 2003 to 2011. Her art reviews appear on WNYC Radio.

Solomon was born in New York City and grew up in New Rochelle, New York. Her parents, Jerry and Sally Solomon, owned a
More about Deborah Solomon...

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