Art

America's Portrait Artist

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Deborah Solomon's American Mirror (Farrar Straus Giroux) is an engaging look at the life and art of Norman Rockwell, the nation's most iconic illustrator. The biography offers compelling reasons to recognize Rockwell as more than a mechanical creator of charming but shallow paintings, even though many fine art critics and Rockwell himself saw him that way.

Solomon deftly critiques Rockwell's work and (too often) psychoanalyzes it in relation to the artist's allegedly deviant sexuality. Some of her bold claims are undermined by inaccuracies in her descriptions of several paintings' content.

But the book paints a compelling backdrop of cultural and political shifts from before the Great Depression until deep into the civil rights movement, and it delivers a thoughtful account of the painter's personal experiences. Through it all, Rockwell receives deserved credit for his work's daring dynamism and for its substantial impact on America's self-image.