Another season, no complaining

Having knocked off that previous post, on the festive magazine covers for Christmas 1939, it occurred to me to look at two years later.

December 1941 must have been frenetic for anyone in US magazine publication (not to say, horrendous for Americans and the World).

At 7.55 a.m, local time, the Japanese navy launched its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Within minutes nineteen U.S. warships were sunk or out-of-action, 140 aircraft destroyed, 2,300 servicemen dead, another 1,200 wounded.

The following day Roosevelt made his “day which will live in infamy” address to Congress. War on Japan was declared with a single dissenter. How that resolution came abouSenate 8 Dect is a story in itself (see right).

On December 11th Germany and Italy obliged by declaring war on the United States. By then American was in the European War for the long haul.

In the next couple of weeks the Philippines were invaded, Guam and Wake Island were occupied. The draft was extended to all in the ages of 20 to 44.

Willie Gillis and beyond

I apologise to nobody for liking Norman Rockwell. Deploring a commercial artist as “populist” must be one of the great sine-quibus-non of art criticism. Rockwell wasn’t illustrating America — though some of the stuff he did in his final phase —The problem we all live with — is searing social criticism. He gave his clients what they wanted: he was illustrating the America that middle-class Americans aspired to and thought they remembered.

I visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery’s 2011 import of the National Museum of American Illustration’s Rockwell exhibition. The tour concluded with all his Saturday Evening Post covers, from 20 May 1916 to 14 December 1963. That last was a black border around the Kennedy image used for 29 October 1960.

Out of that display I took two instructive points:

  • Taking the Kennedy image first: the assassination (22 November) imposed production problems to produce a striking cover for a publication date so near in the future. Re-employing the portrait from the 1960 Election campaign solved the problem. It also made me look again at the Rockwell Christmas cover for 1941 — which would have gone into the mail and on sale barely a fortnight after Pearl Harbor. I’ll come to that in a moment.
  • The other is Rockwell was anticipating war well before Pearl Harbor. He had already begun the series, eventually amounting to eleven, which took Willie Gillis from raw recruit (Saturday Evening Post Cover, 4 October 1941) to GI-Bill college (5 October 1946):


Every time I come across those Rockwell war-time images, I repeat the (anonymous?) comment about Micky Mouse and Donald Duck patriotic one-reelers: thank heaven they were on our side! And the greatest of those was Rockwell’s working of Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms (the 1941 State of the Union Address):


The post-war world, and our concepts of “human rights” start here, folks. St Paul, though, got the whole idea into three words: see 1 Corinthians, 13.

The News kiosk in the snow

Anyway, the point I have been working toward (and there is one) is the Saturday Evening Post Christmas cover for 1941.

How could Rockwell’s painstaking approach — studies leading to a meticulously completed oil — be accommodated into the frenzy of the first few days of a declared World War? Here it is:

Cover 1941

Unless my eyes deceive me, the clue is the difference between the main image and the reduced near-facsimiles around the window: Buy Defense Bonds.

The Turner scenario?

Mr TurnerI haven’t yet seen Mike Leigh’s Mr Turner, an omission caused by a week in Italy and a busy life before the bathroom fitters arrive. The reviews tell me it includes the incident at the Royal Academy in 1832. Constable had spent a decade-and-half perfecting his The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, and was still titivating it on varnishing day. Turner arrived, saw his Helvoetsluys was hung alongside the Constable, and might, just might, appear a trifle dowdy by comparison. With a dab of red paint Helvoetsluys gained a new buoy, and a focal attraction.

I can imagine the art-department of the Post considering the draft Rockwell cover, perhaps in panic and despair. And with a small detailed addition the situation was remedied.

In this context, with that image, my inner Wells-next-the-Sea choirboy hears George Herbert:

A man that looks on glass, 
         On it may stay his eye; 
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass, 
         And then the heav’n espy.

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Filed under History, Literature, Norman Rockwell, United States, Wells-next-the-Sea

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