From 1929 to 1961, Rockwell created images for the advertising campaigns of several healthcare firms, including The American Optical and Upjohn companies. By the late 1930s, the Upjohn Company had grown rapidly to become a major American pharmaceutical provider and hired Rockwell to help bolster its public image. Like most of the political, social, and technological landscape of the United States, the field of medicine was experiencing profound change. As the country industrialized, the old system of healthcare, once characterized by local and personal treatment, began to disappear. In its stead was formed a modern industry dominated by large national companies offering a bevy of new products and services.
Appearing as a display advertisement in doctors' offices and pharmacies around the country, The Muscleman exemplifies Rockwell’s masterful ability to elevate commercial endeavors into the aesthetic realm. Executed in 1941, it features many of Rockwell’s most classic visual tropes. In this charming scene, Rockwell depicts a young mischievous boy accompanied by his faithful canine companion, illustrating a scene that could have occurred in any American household. Its apparent veracity, however, belies the careful planning with which Rockwell executed this—and all—of his compositions. Upjohn executives initially asked the artist to change the spotted dog to the all-white one already featured in another of his popular ads. Rockwell, however, insisted on the pattern “to concentrate the interest around the youngster’s head.” Simultaneously engaging and subtle, and rendered in the artist’s classic style, it is among the finest examples of his imagery as a commercial illustrator.
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