One of the great paintings from Norman Rockwell’s body of work, and I believe one of the great paintings of all time, is his painting titled Checkers. The painting was on display when I was last at the Norman Rockwell Museum. I was able to take some high quality captures and details of the painting and wanted to share them with you.
Rockwell created the painting when he was 34 years old. The painting is oil on linen and measures 35″x39″. It was an illustration done for Ladies’ Home Journal. It depicts a circus clown named Smokey Joe playing checkers with his friends. In the story Smokey was feeling down and his friends talked him into playing a game of checkers. They are letting him win in order to help him get some confidence back and give him a boost. I love the faces and expressions and the dog is awesome, with his red ruff.
The impasto on the forehead of the man below is so rich and juicy looking. I also love the different saturations and temperatures of the portion of his face on the right versus the part in a cooler light on the left portion of his face.
The model below was one of Rockwell’s favorites, James K. Van Brunt. He talks about him in My Adventures as an Illustrator (which is a great book, btw. I highly recommend it! You can get it for under $5 used). Here is a passage about the model from the Saturday Evening Post:
Norman Rockwell must have been captivated by the looks of James K. Van Brunt the day he showed up in Rockwell’s studio, pronouncing himself as a bold veteran of Fredericksburg and brave fighter of Indians forces. Standing 5 feet, 2 inches tall with a craggy face, knobby nose, and distinctive mustache, Van Brunt became one of Rockwell’s favorite models — posing for numerous covers. So many, in fact, that Post editors began to complain.
Rockwell eventually told Van Brunt he would no longer be able to use him as a model unless he shaved his mustache. He refused, then returned a couple weeks later and said he would do it for $10, which Rockwell paid. “I guess the notoriety he’d gained from posing for me had overcome his pride in his mustache,” Rockwell said. The result can be seen in The Old Sign Painter from February 6, 1926.