Norman Rockwell, “Bob Hope,” 1954, oil on canvas, 17 x 13 inches, © National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.

In this occasional series, Fine Art Today delves into the world of portraiture, highlighting historical and contemporary examples of superb quality and skill. This week we discuss an American icon’s portrait by Norman Rockwell.

A fixture on television and radio for decades, English-born entertainer Bob Hope (1903-2003) enjoyed a level of success and popularity few have replicated. Hope earned widespread appeal during the 1940s when he moved from New York City to Hollywood. From 1941 onward, Hope was committed to entertaining U.S. troops, and he continued to do so through the Persian Gulf War — making him “legendary,” in the words of the National Portrait Gallery.

In 1954, Hope was set to grace the cover of the Saturday Evening Post, thereby crossing paths with its head artist, Norman Rockwell, an American icon himself. That was February 13, 1954. “Three days later,” the museum reports, “Rockwell presented Hope with the original painting on his television program, The Bob Hope Show.

The portrait is a perfect construction of the entertainer’s personality — handsome, intelligent, and a little quirky. Hope faces toward the viewer’s right and gazes at us with raised eyebrows and a mischievous smirk. In Rockwell’s typical style, Hope is set against a white background, his head the only part of the bust-length portrayal fully realized. The presentation, like many other Rockwell paintings, forces the viewer to confront the subject directly, without distraction — an attention that Hope himself was undoubtedly accustomed to. Hope wears a blue and green striped tie, and details around his visage reveal splashes of cool tones, unifying the overall portrait.

To learn more, visit the National Portrait Gallery.

This article was featured in Fine Art Today, a weekly e-newsletter from Fine Art Connoisseur magazine. To start receiving Fine Art Today for free, click here.

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Andrew Webster is the former Editor of Fine Art Today and worked as an editorial and creative marketing assistant for Streamline Publishing. Andrew graduated from The University of North Carolina at Asheville with a B.A. in Art History and Ceramics. He then moved on to the University of Oregon, where he completed an M.A. in Art History. Studying under scholar Kathleen Nicholson, he completed a thesis project that investigated the peculiar practice of embedded self-portraiture within Christian imagery during the 15th and early 16th centuries in Italy.


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