Thanksgiving: Rockwell and Lee

Happy Thanksgiving! I don’t know too many works of art about Thanksgiving; I usually associate this holiday with Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want (1943, shown above). Last week, though, I learned about another Thanksgiving painting while listening to Linda Nochlin’s lecture at the SAAM. Nochlin talked about how Doris Lee’s painting Thanksgiving (1935, shown below) has been described as “Rockwell-esque” and similar to Freedom From Want. Nochlin doesn’t see too many similarities, and neither do I. Historically, the comparison doesn’t make much sense, because Lee’s painting precedes Rockwell’s work by eight years. (I guess that if one was determined to make a comparison, it would be more correct to argue that Rockwell’s painting is “Lee-esque.”)

I like Lee’s depiction because it shows all of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the Thanksgiving feast. Perhaps I’m drawn to this painting because I’m cooking the turkey for the first time this year. (Gasp!) Nochlin pointed out that the food appears to miraculously appear on Rockwell’s table, whereas Lee stresses the preparation that goes into a Thanksgiving meal. Nochlin also pointed out that all of the people in the painting are women, except for one lazy boy who stands aloof and watches everyone else work!

Although I think that these two paintings are dissimilar in style and subject matter, I do think that they both capture the excitement and sense of anticipation that is part of Thanksgiving. The bustling movement and energy of Lee’s women is related to the energetic interactions between the people at Rockwell’s table. And the man in Rockwell’s foreground invites us to join in the fun, gazing outward with his twinkling eyes and excited expression. I think it is this sense of excitement that I like best about these paintings, and it’s one of the things that I love about the Thanksgiving holiday.

Do you know of other depictions of Thanksgiving? What’s your favorite part about the Thanksgiving holiday?

  • e says:

    My favorite part in Lee's painting is the little girl giving some food to the cat. That's very cute!

    Both of the paintings are great and definitely remind me of my childhood. Once upon a time, the holidays were a BIG deal in my life. My family went all out. These paintings bring back a lot of memories.

    I don't know much about Rockwell. Have you done a blog on him before and I've missed it?

  • heidenkind says:

    I totally forgot about that part of Nochlin's lecture! I'm excited about Thanksgiving. I love pumpkin pie. 🙂

  • I recently received this charming email from someone who is closely connected to Doris Lee’s family. The writer gave me permission to put some of her thoughts about Doris Lee here:

    “I thought, after reading your statement about “Thanksgiving” by Doris Lee compared to the iconic painting by Norman Rockwell, you might enjoy a “sidebar” about Ms. Lee and the painting…

    [My relative] grew up in that kitchen and has always remembered it as Lee painted it. I chuckled at your remark that the scene was all women with only one lazy boy in the scene. In fact, that is the way it was with the family. They were Midwesterners and the woman’s place was truly in the kitchen. The people are real cousins and the mother of my mother-in-law. What is interesting to me is that Ms Lee was mentored by Grant Woods, but to my knowledge was never a ‘Regionalist.’”

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.