Painted in 1926.
The Saturday Evening Post, June 26, 1926, illustrated in color on the cover
Thomas S. Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist and Illustrator, New York 1970, no. 213, illustrated p. 74
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, no. 73, illustrated
Susan Meyer, Norman Rockwell's People, New York, 1981, p. 46, illustrated
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, vol. I, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, no. C277, p. 105, illustrated p. 104
When Norman Rockwell came up with an image for The Saturday Evening Post, he was not often given specific instructions on what to depict and was allowed a bit of creative freedom. His goal was to find an idea 'which makes the reader want to sigh and smile at the same time.' A recurring theme in Rockwell's work was the juxtaposition of youth and old age, of innocence and experience. The adult figure in Graduation recalls memories of long-winded principals and teachers orating at assemblies and graduations while the students, like the little boy here, stand dutifully listening.
Rockwell had a knack for understanding childhood and its associated discomforts. He acknowledged small details like the boy's ill-fitting outfit; with its short sleeves and pulling buttons; it likely fit better the previous year. These small clothes humorously contrast with the extra growing room in his baggy stockings and oversized shoes as he transitions from one size to the next.
Rockwell used friends and neighbors from his town of New Rochelle as his models, including James Wilson, who posed for the principal in the current work. In Norman Rockwell's People Susan Meyer notes: "Wilson, a former actor, seemed to come to life in a costume. 'He looked like a caricature of an old-time English ham actor, a nineteenth century Hamlet,' Rockwell observed. ...[Wilson] owned several costumes himself, carrying some of them about with him in an old Gladstone bag... Wilson provided for his entire family by posing for artists. He worked all day and far into the night, shopped for food, and supported his two grown sons who were striving to be artists. He was intensely proud of his profession as a model, flatly refusing to pose for photography because he regarded it as degrading. As he posed for Rockwell, Wilson would tell the artist one story after another about his days as an actor... 'He'd darn near kill you with his memories, Rockwell later recalled'" (Norman Rockwell's People, pp. 39, 46).
Though the boy in the painting is unidentified, Rockwell had an extensive list of child models in his neighborhood. Once he misplaced his notebook where he stored the names of his models, so he instructed the child to write his name and address on the wall of the studio. Eventually the walls of his studio were covered with names, each autograph trying to outdo the last with its display value.
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