The name Norman Rockwell often conjures up specific images: A family gathered around a table as mother brings out the turkey, or perhaps his triple self-portrait and its jauntily angled pipe. The artist illustrated the covers of several magazines and produced paintings by the score, but it’s his Saturday Evening Post covers that remain most lodged in the popular consciousness. The Museum of Fine Arts Houston is well aware, luring visitors in with those cheerful depictions of daily life before delivering a well-timed sucker punch: a breathtaking collection of his most moving pieces.
“Norman Rockwell: American Freedom” is four rooms of Rockwell and associates, beginning with the aforementioned Post covers. Works such as “Home from Vacation,” showing a family tuckered out after a day of fun, and “Bargaining with Antique Dealer,” featuring a woman nose-to-nose with a salesman, hardly hint at their 1930s origins. Instead of focusing on tragedy, Rockwell’s Great Depression pieces show little moments of daily life. Only a few show evidence that things weren’t quite as they had been before. “Ticket Seller,” for example, features a glum travel agent caged up in his booth without a single customer.