Norman Rockwell

The Underside of Innocence

Richard Halpern

Norman Rockwell

Richard Halpern

218 pages | 12 color plates, 40 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2006
Cloth $29.00 ISBN: 9780226314402 Published October 2006

Norman Rockwell’s scenes of everyday small-town life are among the most indelible images in all of twentieth-century art. While opinions of Rockwell vary from uncritical admiration to sneering contempt, those who love him and those who dismiss him do agree on one thing: his art embodies a distinctively American style of innocence. 

In this sure-to-be controversial book, Richard Halpern argues that this sense of innocence arises from our reluctance—and also Rockwell’s—to acknowledge the often disturbing dimensions of his works. Rockwell’s paintings frequently teem with perverse acts of voyeurism and desire but contrive to keep these acts invisible—or rather, hidden in plain sight, available for unacknowledged pleasure but easily denied by the viewer. 

Rockwell emerges in this book, then, as a deviously brilliant artist, a remorseless diagnostician of the innocence in which we bathe ourselves, and a continuing, unexpected influence on contemporary artists. Far from a banal painter of the ordinary, Halpern argues, Rockwell is someone we have not yet dared to see for the complex creature he is: a wholesome pervert, a knowing innocent, and a kitschy genius. 

Provocative but judicious, witty but deeply informed, Norman Rockwell is a book rich in suggestive propositions and eye-opening details—one that will change forever the way we think about this American icon and his works.


List of Illustrations



A Note to Readers

1 Manufacturing Innocence

2 Ways of Not Seeing

3 Phallic Women, Adam’s Apples, and the Fullness of the World

4 “That Kind of Man”

5 The History of Girls

6 Painting: A Middlebrow Art

7 Rockwell’s Heirs



Review Quotes
Julia L. Foulkes | The Historian
"Rockwell and his images remain central to twentieth-century U.S. cultural history, too popular to ignore and yet, as Halpern reveals, more complex than many concede."
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