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Tattoo Artist by Norman Rockwell

Tattoo Artist by Norman Rockwell
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Norman Rockwell Signature


March 4, 1944 Issue of The Saturday Evening Post


Tattoo Artist, a Norman Rockwell painting, appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post published March 4, 1944. This is yet another timeless favorite of Rockwell collectors, a classic for all the ages.

Alternate titles for this painting are Only Skin Deep and The Tattoist.

This painting was Rockwell's second cover for The Post in 1944. In 1944, there were nine Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post covers published.

This painting was also Rockwell's 219th overall of 322 total pictures featured on the cover of The Post. Rockwell's career with the Post spanned 47 years, from his first cover illustration, Boy With Baby Carriage in 1916 to his last, Portrait of John F. Kennedy, in 1963.

I have seen pristine original copies of this magazine cover sell for big bucks on eBay. And to think it only cost ten cents originally! And it was mint condition then, too.

The original oil on canvas painting, 43 x 33 inches or 109 x 84 cm, is currently part of the collection of the Brooklyn Museum.

This painting also appears in six Rockwell commentary books. It appears

  • on page 44 of The Norman Rockwell Album,
  • as illustration 245 of Norman Rockwell's America by Christopher Finch,
  • on page 31 of 50 Norman Rockwell Favorites,
  • as illustrations 400 and 406 of Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator by Thomas Buechner,
  • on page 89 of Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective by Thomas Buechner and
  • on page 155 of Norman Rockwell, A Definitive Catalogue by Laurie Norton Moffatt.

It is also reproduced in The Norman Rockwell Poster Book.

Two different preliminary versions, studies, of this painting also appeared in The Norman Rockwell Album on page 138.

Two of the photographs that were taken during the production of this painting, as well as the painting itself, are reproduced in Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera by Ron Schick on page 73.

This classic Norman Rockwell painting shows a tattoo artist plying his trade and practicing his art.




Tattoo Artist

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Tattoos are all the rage now. Everyone, from sports figures to chefs on TV, seems to be covered with them nowadays. I even have one, tasteful and well hidden, of course. Interest in tattooing seems to be cyclical, like most other social phenomena.

Servicemen, like the fellow in the painting, have long been fond of tattoos. I remember my uncles all had one or two.

Tattoos are a permanent reminder of our feelings at the time of our adornment. Those feelings may change, but the tattoo is timeless. Rockwell is commenting on that perceived permanence and timelessness with this painting.

This sailor has apparently been in love several times during his tour of duty. Betty is the latest object of his affections. Before Betty, there was Sing Le, Olga, Mimi, Ming Fu, Rosietta and Sadie. The handwriting for all the names looks the same. So this same tattoo artist has dutifully crossed out the previous woman's name and etched the new love's name six times so far.

What will our sailor do if or when he runs out of room on his bicep? We can observe his elbow and the back of his hand. Those parts are tattooed and presumably his entire forearm is decorated as well. His bicep appears to have a little more blank space for perhaps one more name if necessary.

That begs a question, though. How did he come to leave such a large area untattooed that it would accomadate so many names of so many former love interests? One has to wonder if his right bicep is already completely covered!

This painting was painted while Rockwell still lived in Arlington, Vermont. His good friend and fellow artist/illustrator Mead Schaeffer posed as the tattoo artist. We can only see his back. He apparently handled the stylus like a professional since that is how Rockwell would have posed him.

Clarence Decker, a neighbor of Rockwell's, posed as the sailor. Decker was the Master of the Grange in Arlington and posed in quite a few Rockwell illustrations.

Rockwell also continues the theme of the painting into its background.

He uses the background to show us some of the more popular tattoo designs of the day. The most prominent is the perenially popular dragon tattoo design. We also can see tributes to mother, shipmates, love, good luck, faith, US Navy, friendship, old pals and roses and other flowers.

To add authenticity, a Rockwell trademark, Rockwell actually borrowed a tattoo machine from the Bowery tattooist Al Neville. No doubt, Rockwell consulted with Neville and former sailors in his quest for accuracy in his painting of The Tattoo Artist.


Norman Rockwell: Tattoo Artist

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Norman Rockwell's Tattoo Artist (1944)
(Image Only) Copyright © 1944 Saturday Evening Post & Curtis Publishing Company



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Norman Rockwell Quotes:


I'll never have enough time to paint all the pictures I'd like to.

No man with a conscience can just bat out illustrations. He's got to put all his talent and feeling into them!

Some people have been kind enough to call me a fine artist. I've always called myself an illustrator. I'm not sure what the difference is. All I know is that whatever type of work I do, I try to give it my very best. Art has been my life.

Right from the beginning, I always strived to capture everything I saw as completely as possible.

The secret to so many artists living so long is that every painting is a new adventure. So, you see, they're always looking ahead to something new and exciting. The secret is not to look back.

I can take a lot of pats on the back. I love it when I get admiring letters from people. And, of course, I'd love it if the critics would notice me, too.

You must first spend some time getting your model to relax. Then you'll get a natural expression.

More at BrainyQuote.

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Norman Rockwell Christmas and Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Galleries are open.

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By Keith McDonald
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