“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who in the land is fairest of all?” How many times have we repeated this phrase from a well-known fairy tale? The girl at a mirror by Norman Rockwell would certainly be a contestant to Snow White’s wicked stepmother as she is a beautiful girl with brown hair and a white dress. Out of all Rockwell’s artworks, perhaps this is the most beautiful one, and even though it is figurative, the painting is charged with an abstract atmosphere.
Yet, despite the beauty of the painting, or perhaps precisely because of it, something strikes me deeply in this painting: the girl’s gaze. She looks at herself and analyzes her own face. Her forehead, slightly furrowed, looks worried, though. But what could a little girl in a Rockwell painting worry about?
Well, first of all, let me introduce you to Norman Rockwell. He has appeared here at DailyArt a few times, especially during Thanksgiving parties. That’s because he was brilliant at portraying American daily from an idealistic point of view. Born in New York in 1894, he began studying art as a teenager. Having begun to illustrate magazines at a very young age, he soon became an illustrator of The Saturday Evening Post, the American weekly magazine that had been published since 1821. This work yielded to the artist much of his prestige and renown.
Rockwell’s style is remarkable. Despite that, his work was sometimes considered “minor” by some critics because the artist used elements of pop culture in a context that was closer to a more “refined” aesthetic. Perhaps the critics were surprised by this mix of registers, yet what they viewed as a defect turned out to become Rockwell’s trademark: like no other artist, he showed America beyond pop culture, a nostalgic America full of feelings. But although I adore the artist and could spend whole texts writing about him, let’s go back to the girl at a mirror.
The girl at a mirror was originally created as the cover of the March 6, 1954 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. The image is full of extremely symbolic and very insightful elements. The girl looks apprehensively at the mirror. On her lap we see an opened magazine showing a photo of the actress Jane Russell, who alongside the diva Marilyn Monroe, starred in the fun movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. At her feet, the girl has a comb, a brush and a lipstick (red, of course!) While in the corner of the mirror, we see a forgotten doll discarded without much care.
These elements give us a clear message: the girl is no longer a little girl, she has discarded her dolls and wants to look as beautiful as the girl in the magazine. Even so, the girl’s apprehensive face, which is seen in the mirror, shows doubts – is it really time to grow up like this?
The model, Mary Whalen Leonard, says that despite the way the painting was understood, she was just enjoying herself. She was not comparing herself to the movie stars or leaving her dolls aside for dreams fueled by red lipsticks. All in all, all of this in fact matters little. The sweetness of this work is undoubtedly the best of it.
If you enjoyed this artwork, I recommend that you take a look at the special that the Saturday Evening Post did on the centennial of Norman Rockwell here.
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