Norman Rockwell (American, 1894–1978), , The Melody Stilled by Cold
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894–1978), , The Melody Stilled by Cold
Norman Rockwell (American, 1894–1978)
The Melody Stilled by Cold
Signed 'NORMAN/ROCKWELL' bottom right, oil on canvas
32 x 42 in. (81.3 x 106.7cm).
Executed in 1929.
Commissioned directly from the above.
Capitol Boilers & Radiators, Detroit, Michigan.
Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, New York.
(Possibly) acquired directly from the above.
Private Corporate Collection.
Acquired directly from the above.
Private Corporate Collection, Connecticut.
The Saturday Evening Post, March 2, 1929, p. 146 (illustrated for an advertisement sponsored by Capitol Boilers and Radiators).
Better Homes & Gardens, Meredith Publishing Company Des Moines, Iowa, April 1929 (illustrated for an advertisement sponsored by Capitol Boilers and Radiators).
Laurie Norton, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, Vol. I, p. 340, no. A183 (illustrated).
Mary Moline, Norman Rockwell Encyclopedia: A Chronological Catalog of the Artist's Work 1910-1978, The Curtis Publishing Company, Indianapolis, "Advertisements," p. 145, no. 4-4 (illustrated).
Norman Rockwell is arguably the most iconic painter associated with the Golden Age of Illustration, and will forever be celebrated for his uncanny and heartwarming depictions of a simpler, bygone America. As the artist states himself: "I was showing the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed. And perhaps, therefore, this is one function of the illustrator. He can show what has become so familiar that it is no longer noticed. The illustrator thus becomes a chronicler of his time."
Rockwell is perhaps best remembered for his historic involvement with The Saturday Evening Post, a famous Philadelphia-based magazine, for which he painted an impressive 321 cover illustrations. Aside from this, Rockwell also illustrated calendars, and was commissioned to paint a significant number of advertisements for major American companies including Coca-Cola, Jell-O, Sun-Maid Raisins, and Western Union. Although commercial art was not particularly esteemed at the time, it provided the artist with a reliable source of income. As Rockwell would become more successful and gain popularity, he followed the suggestion of his editors at the Post and went on to charge double his regular cover fee for any commercial venture.
The Melody Stilled by Cold is one of the artist’s early advertisements, directly commissioned by Capitol Boilers & Radiators in 1929 along with Judge vs. Widow Anderson. The work was eventually published in The Saturday Evening Post on March 2, 1909 as well as in Better Homes & Gardens a month later. Affiliated with the United States Radiator Company (now called Corporation) – then the leading American radiator and boiler manufacturer, Capitol Boilers & Radiators was based in Detroit, Michigan. Over the years, the company commissioned numerous advertisement campaigns, and many artists before Rockwell were approached to illustrate the release of a new model, each year. Like many of these 1920s commercial ads, the present painting adopts an easy narrative, and is executed in Rockwell's signature early style of clear realism with an abundance of fascinating details, and an amazing painterly touch. This style diverges from his later compositions in the 1950s, which tend to be quicker and more sketch-like. The scene depicts a lonesome violinist in his deserted studio, who puts aside his instrument for a moment, in order to warm himself by the stove, above which one can spot a boiling cup of water. The painting is very restrained, carefully composed with subtle notes of warm color (red and orange) arranged in strategic places. As the advertisement itself explains: "By the fire he sits, symbol of the sentimental tradition that genius thrives in a garret. Yet the melody he has written, his cold-stiffened fingers can not [sic] translate into the singing beauty which he intended.”
To depict the violinist, Norman Rockwell used one of his favorite models, Fred Hildebrandt. An aspiring artist himself, Hildebrandt was a close friend of Norman Rockwell during the 1930s. He earned his living modeling for other illustrators in the region, and posed for several famous works by Rockwell such as Sport and Freedom of the Press: Poor Richard's Almanac. Here he is depicted as a dapper young man, tall and slim with his luxuriant blond hair combed straight back. As Susan Meyer writes, "Hildebrandt was a model in great demand by the New Rochelle illustrators - a fine bone structure and figure that made him an ideal pirate, hero, romantic figure, or a Yankee Doodle. Fred Hildebrandt had become so valuable to Rockwell, in fact, that the illustrator had hired him as a handyman and used him to track down props and costumes as well."
Although The Melody Stilled by Cold was meant to be published in The Saturday Evening Post, the painting is arguably very different from the other works Rockwell would design for the cover of the magazine. With its overall austere theme and somber palette, the painting has almost an Old-Master painting feel to it, with stronger ties to 19th century compositions than to mid-century art. In fact, the painting reveals Rockwell’s impressive grounding in (and overall knowledge of) the history of European art, since it explicitly refers to older canvases which depict the “bohemian way of life” artists are fatally subject to: a sad and lonely existence driven by ambition but challenged by poverty. Similar to Octave Tassaert’s Intérieur d’Atelier and La Mort du Musicien, Norman Rockwell pictures an artist who has to choose between continuing his art or giving in to his human needs, between playing his tune or getting warmer. Unlike other artists however, Rockwell does not dwell on the overall misery of the violinist’s condition; he does not show a wretched, agonizing character on the verge of dying. Instead, the man is dressed elegantly, sitting with dignity on a modest chair, his gaze lost in the distance and waiting for his hands to get warmer, so he can play again. By doing so, Rockwell infuses a sense of nostalgia and overall minimalist poetry that few other works by Rockwell convey. It is also an efficient way of highlighting the company’s product, the boiler in the bottom right corner of the composition, without drawing too much attention to it as it serves the purpose of narration. The painting may also hint at a deeper meaning, as it could very well reflect Rockwell’s own, torn, feelings about what an artist should be; a true-to-himself, honest and incorruptible person who is fully committed to his art, with no condition. The violinist Rockwell presents to us is in fact the kind of artist he aspired to be, but failed to remain as he rapidly broke the promise he made to his art school friends “never to prostitute [his] art, never to do advertising jobs, never to make more than fifty dollars a week” by accepting, from 1915 onwards, to paint commercial ads for rich companies.