Friday 7 October 2016

Steven Spielberg and the Norman Rockwell Painting that Got Away

Spielberg had grown up in a home with Norman Rockwell paintings on the wall.

Russian Schoolroom circa 1967 courtesy

In 1973, Norman Rockwell's painting Russian Schoolroom was snatched from a gallery wall.  By 2009, it would be the subject of a court case involving Rockwell collector Steven Spielberg (

Painted in 1967, Russian Schoolroom features a classroom of Russian schoolchildren seated at their desks, their eyes trained on a bust of Vladimir Lenin, except for one lone dreamer who lets his gaze wander.  The painting accompanied a series of articles about the Soviet Union published in Look magazine.  Rockwell based his painting on a reference photo from a Moscow classroom.  However, the inattentive pupil is actually paying attention in the photo.  Some have suggested that Rockwell's wayward student represents his political view about non-conformity.



Russian Schoolroom was one example of Soviet Russia.  At the time, the Soviet union and the United States were deep into the Cold War.  New film maker Steven Spielberg, had not yet directed his low budget film Duel which debuted in 1971.  Spielberg had grown up in a home with Norman Rockwell paintings on the wall.  Just starting out in his film career, however, he did not have the money to collect Norman Rockwell art.

Russian Schoolroom, which had disappeared from a Missouri art gallery, turned up in New Orleans in 1988 where it was sold at an auction for $70,000.  Steven Spielberg bought the painting from an art dealer, Judy Goffman Cutler, in 1989 for $200,000.  Twenty years later, the FBI traced the painting to Spielberg, seized it and transported it to the Las Vegas district court.  The court ruled in 2010 that the piece belonged to Judy Goffman Cutler.

In 2010, Spielberg, along with fellow collector George Lucas, lent fifty-seven Rockwell paintings to the Smithsonian for a display titled "Telling Stories:  Norman Rockwell from the Collections of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg".  Both film directors have referred to Rockwell's artwork as "cinematic".  More than just a picture, his paintings are a scene.  One can just imagine what has happened immediately before that scene and what might happen just after it.

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