In 1930 Norman Rockwell went out to visit friends in California. The trip was partly leisure and partly an escape from subpoena papers from Good Housekeeping. He had jokingly agreed with the art director of the magazine that he would do a "Life of Christ" series, but knew the Post wouldn't let him do it, because of his contractual obligations to them. However, the magazine's art director thought Rockwell had been serious and was not pleased when he found out Rockwell wasn't going to do the series, threatening to sue. Upon the advice of his editor at the Post, Rockwell quietly left New Rochelle to avoid any visits from lawyers and wait until the situation was settled. Hearing of his troubles, his friends Clyde and Cotta Forsythe invited him out to California.
The Forsythes lived near Hollywood where the movie industry attracted Americans from all walks of life. Rockwell commented "the model situation was as rich and varied as a Christmas spicecake. All the extras, out of work actors - cowboys, old geezers, wizened crones, sleek matinee idols, lovely girls, plain girls. When I wanted a model - any type, it didn't matter - I just had to walk around Hollywood, looking at the people, and before long I'd find exactly the one I wanted" (Norman Rockwell: My Life as an Illustrator, New York, 1988, p. 262).
Rockwell completed a number of studies while in Hollywood, but his painting of Gary Cooper is the only one he mentions in his biography. In Norman Rockwell: My Life as an Illustrator he describes how he came to paint Cooper: "I needed a rawboned, glamorous cowboy for a Post cover I was doing: an actor dressed in chaps, boots, and spurs having his lips painted by a hard-bitten little make-up man. I asked Clyde if he knew anyone who would fit the part. He took me to see a friend of his who was a publicity director of Paramount studios. 'Say,' said the publicity director when I'd explained what I wanted, 'how'd you like Gary Cooper? He's between pictures.' 'Sure,' I said, flabbergasted. (Gary Cooper was posing for me? Wow!) 'I'll send him over in the morning,' said the publicity director.
"The next morning the door of the studio was quite literally darkened and Gary Cooper strode in. What a man! When I looked at him I actually felt my narrow shoulders and puny arms. He was a wonderful model and a very nice, easy guy. He was always playing some cute trick on Clyde and me - exploding matches, ash trays which jumped when you touched them" (Norman Rockwell: My Life as an Illustrator, p. 263).
In Gary Cooper as 'The Texan,' Rockwell successfully translated the glamour of Hollywood onto canvas. Cooper perches on a saddle having his makeup applied, wearing his full costume, including his boots with spurs, leather chaps, holstered gun and embroidered vest. The make-up artist is an equally accessorized character. As a cigar hangs out of the man's mouth, scissors and a comb peek out of his pants, ready to tackle any stray hairs. Other tools of the trade are tucked behind his ears, draped on his lap, and dropped at his feet. Rockwell has also captured the warm lights of the movie set as they illuminate this offstage scene from the right.
Though Cooper was between movies when he sat for Rockwell, Rockwell added the movie title to the chalkboard in the background, since The Texan came to theaters around the time the Post cover was published. The slate also references John Cromwell, the movie's director.
Cooper played several cowboys throughout the course of his career. In The Texan, however, Cooper plays the Llano Kid, a bandit with a price on his head for murder. Looking for a place to hide, he poses as the long lost son of Mexican aristocrat Senora Ibarra on the advice of a crooked lawyer named Thatcher. The Llano Kid, as 'Enrique,' charms the Senora as well as her niece Consuelo, played by Fay Wray. Thatcher's plan to use the Llano Kid to get the Senora's fortune goes awry when the Kid learns that the gambler he killed was the real Enrique. The Kid manages to foil Thatcher's plan and win the hand of the lovely Consuelo in the process.
The trip to Hollywood was a successful one for Rockwell. In addition to Gary Cooper and the many models he sketched there, he also met his second wife, Mary Barstow, while he was painting Cooper and they were engaged two weeks later. He returned to New Rochelle with a new wife, several new ideas for paintings, and safe from any legal action from Good Housekeeping.
Oil on canvas
Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Fort Lauderdale Museum; Brooklyn, New York, Brooklyn Museum; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery of Art; San Antonio, Texas, McNay Art Institute; San Francisco, California, M.H. DeYoung Memorial Museum; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Oklahoma Art Center; Indianapolis, Indiana, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Omaha, Nebraska, Joslyn Art Museum; Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Norman Rockwell: A Sixty Year Retrospective, May-November 1972, illustrated p. 37
San Diego, California, San Diego Museum of Art, The Cowboy, April-June 1981
Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Art Museum; Palm Springs, California, Palm Springs Desert Museum, The Popular West: American Illustrators 1900-1940, April-November 1982, no. 48
Atlanta, Georgia, High Museum of Art; Chicago, Illinois, Chicago Historical Society; Washington, D.C., Corcoran Gallery; San Diego, California, San Diego Museum of Art; Phoenix, Arizona, Phoenix Museum of Art; Stockbridge, Massachusetts, The Norman Rockwell Museum at Stockbridge; New York, Guggenheim Museum, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People, November 1999-February 2002, illustrated in color p. 18
Springville, Utah, Springville Museum of Art (on loan)
35 by 27 in. (88.9 by 68.6 cm)
The Saturday Evening Post, May 24, 1930, illustrated in color on the cover
Norman Rockwell, The Norman Rockwell Album, Garden City, New York, 1961, p. 37
Thomas S. Buechner, Norman Rockwell: Artist & Illustrator, New York, 1970, no. 259
Christopher Finch, Norman Rockwell's America, New York, 1975, no. 11, p. 22
Laurie Norton Moffatt, Norman Rockwell: A Definitive Catalogue, Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 1986, vol. 1, no. C315, p. 119, illustrated p. 118
Norman Rockwell, Norman Rockwell: My Adventures as an Illustrator, New York, 1988, illustrated in color p. 260
Bernard Danenberg Galleries, New York
Charles Grieve Gallery, Los Angeles, California
Judy and Alan Goffman Fine Art, New York
Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. Rephun