Lucas Museum Announces Acquisition of Norman Rockwell’s "Shuffleton’s Barbershop"
Museum ensures iconic masterwork remains in public view
Los Angeles, CA (April 11, 2018) – The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art today announced the acquisition of Norman Rockwell’s masterwork Shuffleton’s Barbershop. The 1950 painting, which had been in the collection of the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, MA, has been the subject of considerable attention in recent months.
“As a museum dedicated to celebrating visual storytelling, we are honored to become the public steward of this major work,” said Don Bacigalupi, Founding President of the Lucas Museum. “Norman Rockwell is one of our nation’s most important storytellers, and this cultural treasure will continue to be seen and enjoyed by the public in an American museum, where it will be a source of inspiration for generations to come.”
The Lucas Museum recently broke ground and launched construction in Los Angeles's Exposition Park.
Shuffleton’s Barbershop, revered as one of the most iconic works of Rockwell’s storied career, will join an expansive collection of works by the artist, including Saying Grace (1951) and After the Prom (1957).
These works will be featured prominently on public view to allow museum visitors to explore the power and importance of visual storytelling. The Lucas Museum will engage visitors of all ages in educational programs that highlight prominent examples of narrative art in a variety of mediums, periods and cultures.
With the acquisition, the Lucas Museum announced a cross-country partnership whereby Shuffleton’s Barbershop will be on long-term loan to the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, for public display commencing later this year and extending into 2020. The Lucas Museum will also explore opportunities to loan the painting to other museums in Massachusetts and elsewhere in order to maximize public access to this beloved work of art.
“We are immensely grateful to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art for ensuring that Norman Rockwell's masterpiece Shuffleton's Barbershop will continue to be available to and enjoyed by the public. We thank the Museum for generously loaning the painting to the Norman Rockwell Museum while the Lucas Museum is under construction in Los Angeles,” stated Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell Museum Director and CEO. “It is especially meaningful for the people of Berkshire County who will have the opportunity to enjoy this masterpiece for a few more years, knowing that it will remain in the public realm. We look forward to continuing to work with our friends at the Lucas Museum to create educational opportunities and appreciation of the narrative art of illustration, including ongoing collection-sharing."
Added Bacigalupi, “We want to ensure that the public continues to have access to this major work. We recognize the importance of this painting to the Berkshires and to Massachusetts. And we are delighted to be working with our colleagues at the Rockwell Museum, with whom we have a longstanding collegial relationship.”
The Lucas Museum’s focus on a broad range of visual art that is storytelling in nature is an ideal context in which to consider Rockwell’s work. A substantial portion of the museum’s seed collection — a gift from its founder — traces the golden age of American illustration, when artists such as N. C. Wyeth, Maxfield Parrish, and Norman Rockwell made beloved images that graced magazine covers, billboards, and wall calendars. Their unparalleled ability to tell stories in single painted images and to connect emotionally with viewers made their works enormously popular and resonant over many years.
Over the course of a nearly 75-year career, Norman Rockwell revealed an unparalleled ability to express his distinctive vision and perspective on American life in the 20th Century. Between 1916 and 1962, Rockwell painted 322 images for The Saturday Evening Post. Executed at the height of his career, Shuffleton’s Barbershop (1950) is considered among the artist’s masterpieces, and stands as one of the finest works by an American artist of the 20th century.
A work of compositional complexity and emotional subtlety, Shuffleton’s Barbershop invites the viewer to peer in through the cracked plate glass window of a small town barbershop. Long since closed to customers, the darkened shop is illuminated with the golden light that bathes a trio of musicians playing in the back room. Rockwell set the scene in an actual barbershop located in East Arlington, Vermont, where he and his family moved in 1939. He enlisted the shop’s proprietor, Rob Shuffleton, along with other Arlington residents, to pose as the trio of musicians. Shuffleton was an avid fisherman, and Rockwell alludes to this biographical fact with the inclusion of his fishing gear on the shelf to the right of the stove. Rockwell additionally filled the scene with references that were specific not only to the barbershop, but also to various aspects of American culture, from comic books to Walt Disney.
While viewers might marvel at the painting’s realism and abundant detail, Rockwell’s greatest challenge was creating the window through which this scene is viewed. This was not part of Rockwell’s original plan for the painting. In fact, he created an earlier painting, almost identical but without the window. By adding it, Rockwell places the viewer outside, on the street where one cannot hear the music, and the visual scene takes precedence. Rockwell cannot deliver sound on canvas, but he can inspire the viewer’s imaginations to do so.
At first glance, the style and subject of Shuffleton’s Barbershop seems a clear allusion to the work of 19th century genre painters such as William Sidney Mount. Yet, like the best examples of Rockwell’s work, this painting is ultimately entirely his own in aesthetic, message and tone. Astonishingly complex in both content and form, it evinces his extensive awareness of art historical precedents and his mastery of his medium, while also attesting to the importance with which he viewed his own creative abilities.
Rockwell enjoyed placing references to works of art by other painters within his compositions as a demonstration of his knowledge and skill. The dramatic use of chiaroscuro and acute attention to realistic detail displayed in Shuffleton’s Barbershop immediately recall the work of the 17th century Dutch master, Johannes Vermeer.
The painting also conveys a powerful story about community. For many Americans, the local barbershop long stood as a symbol of small-town life, and represented the values of community and kinship that were deeply ingrained in the national sense of identity. In Shuffleton’s Barbershop, Rockwell’s exploration of the iconography of the American barbershop evokes a quality that is nearly cinematic. The viewer is drawn into the scene in increments, first as an outsider, looking inward, desiring to be within the warmly illuminated camaraderie of friendship after a day's work. It takes considerable time to arrive at the scene in the backroom, as the viewer is invited to look closely at the painstakingly painted detail in the barbershop interior. It leaves the viewer wanting to know more, a testament to Rockwell’s rare gift as a storyteller.
*References: Norman Rockwell Museum; Sotheby’s